Democrats Clash in Fiery Debate

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MSNBC and the Washington Post hosted the November Democratic debate on Wednesday, and the all-women moderator team made sure to keep it entertaining. At this point in the race, most candidates have three or more debates under their belts leading to more comfortable and confident performances. Among the American people, winners from tonight are those watching politics as a sport. Losers, as usual in these debates, are voters wanting to differentiate between candidates based on policy.

Early on, the moderators set up a clash between Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard and California Senator Kamala Harris, perhaps seeking a viral and feisty clip akin to this one from CNN’s July debate. Harris’ primary attack on Gabbard this debate centered around party disloyalty, and she also echoed past smears of Assad-apologia. Gabbard smiled through the attack, adding “That’s ridiculous.” As to who won this exchange, the corporate press would tell you Harris “hit back – hard.” However, anyone following Gabbard’s campaign might remember how easily these attacks fall apart when examined for more than a few minutes. From her appearance on The View, to her podcasts with Joe Rogan, Gabbard has addressed Harris’ attacks ten times over. As for party disloyalty, Gabbard’s rise in the polls since her Twitter takedown of Hillary Clinton could indicate a need for self-reflection within the Democratic party.

Eyes were on Warren as she looks more vulnerable with recent dips in the polls. Washington Post’s post-debate coverage said she seemed prepared for attacks that never came. The most heat she got was from hedge fund manager and “literally who” Tom Steyer on his term limit crusade. Instead facing the heat was rising star South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He clashed with Booker, Klobuchar, and Steyer, but his most explosive exchange was again with anti-establishment sweetheart Tulsi Gabbard. She called him out over saying he would send U.S troops to Mexico to fight the cartels. He did say this, but his deflection probably won’t hurt him in this race. With the U.S military present in so many nations, should it really add one more to its list of responsibilities? Of course not. Is this an issue Democrats will base their vote on? Probably not.

Bernie Sanders has strayed away from fighting other candidates in debates, favoring to stay on message and retain his campaign’s energy. He strayed from this Wednesday night only to remind everyone that Joe Biden supported the Iraq War. This will resonate with millions of Americans, but hardcore anti-war voters who wanted someone like Mike Gravel on stage hardly had their warmonger bloodlust sated. It’s hard to imagine Bernie Sanders advocating sending any of his colleagues to the Hague.

The clearest loser from this debate is Biden, who proves once again to be everyone’s favorite target. Cory Booker had the privilege of delivering the hardest blow, questioning Biden on his recent comments about refusing to legalize marijuana. Booker claims comments like these alienate black voters, a demographic highly sought after this debate. He had a good appearance, but it may be his last appearance on the debate stage as he has yet to receive even one qualifying poll for December.

Another loser is anyone who wanted to know about differences between candidate’s climate policies. Despite how many candidates chimed in, no one had time to outline a plan or policy. Clashing over who can be more vaguely supportive of climate action does a disservice to voters. It reveals the failures of this format to competently deal with complex issues. Many candidates have expressed frustration with the time constraints. Andrew Yang even tweeted support of a presidential town hall hosted by Sam Harris and Joe Rogan.

Only a few debates remain before primaries open in Iowa on February 3. The next will be on December 19th in Los Angeles.

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Seth Wallace

Seth Wallace is a part-time libertarian activist based in Iowa City, Iowa. Apart from working on national and local elections, he is also involved in the local Young Americans for Liberty chapter.