Wednesday, July 31, 2019
The signature domestic proposal by the leading progressive candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination came under withering attack from moderates Tuesday in a debate that laid bare the struggle between a call for revolutionary policies and a desperate desire to defeat President Donald Trump.
Standing side by side at center stage, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren slapped back against their more cautious rivals who ridiculed “Medicare for All” and warned that “wish-list economics” would jeopardize Democrats’ chances for taking the White House in 2020.
“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” said Warren, a Massachusetts senator, decrying Democratic “spinelessness.”
Sanders, a Vermont senator, agreed: “I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas.”
A full six months before the first votes are cast, the tug-of-war over the future of the party pits pragmatism against ideological purity as voters navigate a crowded Democratic field divided by age, race, sex and ideology. The fight with the political left was the dominant subplot on the first night of the second round of Democratic debates, which was notable as much for its tension as its substance.
Twenty candidates are spread evenly over two nights of debates Tuesday and Wednesday. The second night features early front-runner Joe Biden, the former vice president, as well as Kamala Harris, a California senator.
While much of the debate was dominated by attacks on the preferred liberal health care policy, the issue of race emerged in the second hour. The candidates were unified in turning their anger toward Trump for using race as a central theme in his reelection campaign. Sanders called Trump a racist, while others said the president’s rhetoric revived memories of the worst in the country’s history, including slavery.
“The legacy of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow and suppression is alive and well in every aspect of the economy and the country today,” said former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, adding that he supported the creation of a panel to examine reparations for the descendants of slaves.
The marathon presidential primary season won’t formally end for another year, but there was an increasing sense of urgency for many candidates who are fighting for survival. More than a dozen could be blocked from the next round of debates – and effectively pushed out of the race – if they fail to reach new polling and fundraising thresholds implemented by the Democratic National Committee.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is working to keep her campaign alive, aligned herself with the pragmatic wing: “We are more worried about winning an argument than winning an election.”
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, in his first debate appearance, took a swipe at Sanders: Working people “can’t wait for a revolution,” he charged. “Their problems are here and now.”
While he avoided any direct confrontations with his more liberal rivals, Pete Buttigieg tried several times to present himself as the more sober alternative in the race. He rejected extreme positions, quoted Scripture and abstained from calling out his opponents.
The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., also subtly emphasized the generational difference between himself and Sanders, the candidate 40 years his senior standing to his side.