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Washington Monthly | Live Blog: First Democratic Primary Debate

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The first debates of the 2020 election season takes place over two nights, on Wednesday and Thursday in Miami, Florida. We at the Washington Monthly will be live-blogging both events, providing fresh insights in real time as the 20 top Democratic hopeful try to maximize this opportunity before a national audience. Follow along as the party’s voters get their first look at which of the candidates they think is best equipped to take on Donald Trump.

Make sure to keep refreshing the page. We will constantly update our blog with new analyses throughout the debate,

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9:52

Poor John Delaney, His rote answers keep getting cut off, though some of that is his fault. Gotta pick your shots, John!

— Josh Alvarez

9:51

Cory Booker makes a bold move as the only Democrat who doesn’t vow to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal. His pal Shmuley Boteach might appreciate that. Some key progressive constituencies won’t.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:50

Since the debate prep folks advise the candidates to ignore the parameters of questions (what would you do about the border in the first 100 days?) and answer with their talking points, is it even fair to ding them when they don’t answer the questions?

— Martin Longman

9:50

Good move from Booker to link the criminalization of immigration to the criminalization of mental health and addiction—plays to his strength as the candidate with the most comprehensive plans for criminal justice reform.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:49

Why is Tim Ryan here? He has the look of a man who is in way over his head—and knows it. His answer on immigration was weak sauce, without content, and he quickly shifted to an obvious attack on Trump’s abhorrent policies.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:47

Tim Ryan has positioned himself as a moderate, but the Guantanamo Bay point seemed like it was positioned to be a progressive sound bite.

— Daniel Block

9:46

Is every non-Latino candidate determined to trot out their mangled Spanish?

— Joshua Alvarez

9:45

Castro should have made his point about de-criminalizing border crossing and let it go. Starting a fight with O’Rourke doesn’t help him.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:45

This almost feels unfair. Castro’s mastery of immigration policy, and the clarity of his proposed solution, is just on another level compared to the rest of the debaters.

— Gilad Edelman

9:43

For anyone curious about all the Spanish flexing: the debate is being televised on and co-hosted by Telemundo, in addition to NBC and MSNBC, meaning lots of Spanish-speaking Democratic voters are watching.

— Eric Cortellessa

9:42

A perfect question for Julian Castro to shine. He’s right, he was the first candidate to put out an immigration plan. Elizabeth “I-have-a-plan-for-that” Warren, notably, has not put out an immigration plan. A Marshall Plan for Central America is the right way to think about the refugee crisis. As I wrote in January: The refugee problem is a foreign policy problem.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:41

Something to remember, regarding Castro: the debates aren’t just for president; they’re an audition for VP.

— Gilad Edelman

9:40

So far, the big winner from tonight may well be Castro. And it’s because on one of the most contentious and vexing issues, immigration, he’s got both the greatest mastery of the policy and the most powerfully emotional way of discussing the underlying moral questions.

— Gilad Edelman

9:40

The entire field needs to take a page from Julian Castro on immigration. On that one—he’s the guy with a plan.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:38

Warren dodged the abortion question like a pro, which is a shame. It’s not good that someone like Warren, who is usually forthright and brave, is clearly too afraid to say something obvious: limits to when someone can have an abortion is acceptable and morally plausible (in addition to being the preference of the vast majority of Americans). Otherwise, Warren absolutely dominated this phase of the debate. She’s head and shoulders smarter and more rigorous than her rivals on the stage.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:35

One significant point that Julian Castro has acknowledged is the specific impact of issues like abortion on the trans community. He’s consistently included the trans community in his speeches, including earlier this week when he asked for a non-binary activist’s pronouns.

— Michael Waters

9:33

One of Booker’s biggest weaknesses on the left has been his perceived coziness to the pharmaceutical industry, which largely stems from a vote he took in favor of restricting importation of generic drugs. Tonight, he seems determined to bury that narrative, declaring that he intends to hold opioid manufacturers criminally liable for the effects of their drugs.

— Gilad Edelman

9:32

You’re not going to find much daylight between these candidates on the issue of reproductive freedom.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:31

Several candidates are focusing exclusively on insurance companies as the problem with health care. What none of them seem willing to talk about is the role that providers play in the cost of health care in this country. That is a much more complicated and nuanced issue – but is a huge impediment to accessibility and affordability.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:28

One clear theme emerging: Warren is hell bent on proving her willingness to call out specific villains behind the problems being discussed—in this case, health insurance companies, who “sucked out 23 billion dollars” from the system last year.

— Gilad Edelman

9:27

Amy Klobuchar says Big Pharma “doesn’t own me.” They might not own her, but they sure do donate to her campaigns. From Washington Examiner: “Medtronic was Klobuchar’s third-largest contributor to her reelection bid from 2011 to 2016, donating nearly $45,000. Between 2005 and 2010, before its acquisition of MiniMed, Medtronic donated $46,300.”

— Joshua Alvarez

9:25

DeBlasio needs to gain a LOT of ground in the polls, so it makes sense that he’s picking a fight with someone. Particularly a moderate, like O’Rourke.

— Daniel Block

9:23

Warren doesn’t seem to know about the medical loss ratio regulation in Obamacare – which limits the amount private insurance companies can collect for administration and profit to 20-25 percent.

— Nancy LeTourneau

9:22

Klobuchar says pharmaceuticals are a “bigger issue” than how we do insurance. She couldn’t be more wrong. Drug prices are outrageous, but they actually make up a trivial amount of America’s out-of-control health care spending. As Phil Longman wrote in 2017, the culprit is overwhelmingly the fact that we pay hospitals and doctors more than other countries for the exact same procedures. And that, in turn, stems largely from the concentration of health care markets. Surprising that Warren didn’t make that point in her response.

— Gilad Edelman

9:21

This is why Jay Inslee should be taken more seriously. As I previously wrote, Jay Inslee was one of the first candidates to release a detailed climate plan, which is based on the plan he successfully instituted in Washington state, where he is the governor.

— Joshua Alvarez

9:21

Interestingly, members of the GOP have been talking about the need to have a U.S. industrial policy (see, Marco Rubio). But Warren is right. The U.S. has always had an industrial policy. It’s just a question of who it works for.

Rubio wants an industrial policy to fight the rise of China. Warren wants one to fight climate change.

— Daniel Block

9:19

Jay Inslee has been looking to be more than just the “climate candidate.” I wonder if the pivot to unions was a pre-planned play for a new constituency.

— Daniel Block

9:18

There is a subtle difference between how Warren talks about breaking up monopolies and how Cory Booker talks about the issue. They both demonstrate a commitment to doing so, but while Booker emphasizes the need to put people in place who will enforce anti-trust policies, Warren says it will take courage. Not sure what that means.

— Nancy LeToruneau

9:16

Tulsi Gabbard takes the opportunity to introduce herself to the cable news-watching public by emphasizing her military career and national security focus. Something she won’t mention: her friendly visit with, and her defense of, Bashar Al Assad

— Josh Alvarez

9:14

After about 40 years of wage stagnation and a widening economic gap, inequality is finally front and center in the first primary debate. This makes me optimistic that we’ll have a robust debate on climate change by 2050.– Gilad Edelman

9:13

Warren’s rebuttal to Booker’s milquetoast take on antitrust is spot on. Just appointing judges or tweaking existing institutions (like the feckless FTC) is not enough.
— Joshua Alvarez

9:11

Overall, this format is hopeless for substance, but Booker did his best. It’s too little appreciated on the left that he actually gets this subject.

— Martin Longman

9:10

Cory Booker comes right out the gate talking about corporate concentration and antitrust. Elizabeth Warren hops in. Early contenders for the Washington Monthly debater of the night award. It’s a good sign for the intellectual level at which this primary will be fought, compared to past years.

— Gilad Edelman

9:07

Beto switching to Spanish about ten seconds into a question about top marginal tax rates will surely go down as one of the more dramatic opening gambits in debate history.

— Gilad Edelman

9:05

The debate opens with Elizabeth Warren, as it should: Warren is the only candidate on the dais that is polling double digits according to Real Clear Politics latest polling averages. We’ll find out if her being surrounded by a platoon of mediocrity (Jay Inslee excepted!) is to her detriment — or if she’ll stand out by giving excellent answers like the one she just gave.

— Joshua Alvarez

8:56

The beginning of this debate is painfully awkward as the 10 candidates appear on stage. They all seem perfectly good at the classic point-and-wave as they gaze out toward the audience before the event starts in earnest. But they are clearly not enjoying having to make small talk in the meantime. It’s easy to understand why. For some of these presidential hopefuls who are polling extremely low–and who lack any real name recognition and need to make an impression with voters–it’s hard to kibbutz with your opponents before you plan to hit them in the jugular.

— Eric Cortellessa





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