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DemDebate Roundtable Season 2 Night 2: In Conversation with Affinity’s Politics Team

As the next ten candidates of the 2020 presidential race continue to battle it out on the CNN stage, our writers from the Politics category sat down with their editor to analyze the performances of the candidates and what it meant for the upcoming 2020 presidential election. Here’s what transpired:

Atharva Tewari: I know all of us are thinking it but in what ways did you guys think that this debate was different than yesterday’s debate?

Kat Falacienski: The first debate was much more organized. It was easier to differentiate between moderates and progressives, the moderators kept tighter control of the candidates, and they compared proposals and pointed out the flaws in each other’s plans. There was some dwelling on issues like healthcare, but they progressed from one issue to the next fairly smoothly. This debate was full of personal attacks, the moderators didn’t have as tight control of the candidates, and they were so busy questioning each other’s worth that it was difficult to discern who was more moderate or progressive. The candidates rarely answered questions in a linear fashion and sometimes avoided the questions altogether. They also tended to circle back to previous questions where they were more comfortable. There was less knowledge to be gained.

Joanna Hou: The moderators, I think that they were at least slightly favoring Harris above other people. Every time Harris went overtime, the moderators would say “thank you” but then stop while she kept talking. In other cases, with Bennett and other candidates, the moderators were quick to stop them after the limit. But I felt like there was something going on with Harris because all she had to say was: “this is important” and the moderators would let her talk. Another thing that I thought was different about today’s debate was just how long some of the sections lasted. The moderators were much less efficient than yesterday when they got through a variety of topics. Today, they burned through an hour and a half only addressing two issues, and that was fairly annoying. Finally, Democrat on-Democrat cannibalism was so severe tonight that viewers of this debate hardly were able to understand the policy, and the whole debate was just back and forth banter.

Chloe Zhao: Yes, the back and forth between the candidates was more frequent, and in my opinion, more obnoxious as the debate melted down into what felt more like a catfight than a live political debate. Second, the candidates had trouble keeping to their time intervals, and especially with De Blasio’s brief quarrel with moderator Don Lemon, it was hard to focus on the actual meat of the debate. Third, I agree with Kat, the candidates kept falling back on previously answered questions just so they could gain more traction.

Some of the candidates seemed to have their only talking points be basically attacking or defending themselves from other candidates, which included Harris, Biden and at times Booker.

Joanna: I think the whole debate was just so disorganized and the moderators weren’t controlling enough today to hold the more aggressive field together.

Chloe: I share that sentiment.

Atharva: Chloe, I think Biden did that at times but also successively became a target of so many candidates trying to have their “moment” by attacking him that he burnt through the debate without establishing his beliefs and his central message. Did you think it was intentional or did he just forget about his own messaging while swatting the flies?

Chloe: I think so. Looking back at my notes, Biden had the most arguments between the rest of the candidates probably because he was the former Vice president and all eyes were on him. I agree with Atharva, and I do think that Biden had one of the longest speaking times because he was constantly swooped into the conversation because of his work as Vice President, for better or worse. It made it harder for him to establish his central message, but I think he tried his best, albeit stumbles here and there. Booker, on the other hand, had made several points but also inserted himself into arguments, even though he came out on the other side still looking pretty clean, such as his jab at Biden saying “you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and don’t even know the flavor” during the criminal justice discussion. However, I think Harris is really the one that didn’t play her cards right and wasted time by trying to beat down Biden at every turn, which felt more to me like she was beating a dead horse.

Graphic of who talked the most during the debate via CNN

Joanna: Yeah, they all tried to copy Harris from the first debate, and Harris tried to repeat the same attacks she used in the last debate. However, this time, it didn’t work for Harris. During healthcare, she kept trying to throw Biden into the discussion, but Biden remained fairly strong. He wasn’t stellar, but he didn’t let her eat him alive this time. Harris wanted another chance to just repeat her victory, but this time, things weren’t good the second time around. Biden was able to assert some policy, but as already established, this entire debate was basically just banter. I don’t think Harris saw the improvements she was trying to look for.

Chloe: I agree with Joanna. The candidates really didn’t do the right thing by piggybacking off of Kamala’s accidentally successful “tactic” of attacking Biden consistently. It might actually be counterintuitive, and make Biden look better than the rest of them since they kept insinuating the arguments. In this way, it was more like an interrogation than a way for the candidates to properly broadcast what they would do as President.

Kat: Biden was constantly on the defensive. The worst of it was when Gillibrand quoted him as saying that he didn’t support women working outside the home, and it took him several minutes to deny ever having believed that. I suspect Biden may have been a bit too overconfident and trusting in his high poll numbers and status as former VP. He played very much into Obama rhetoric (referencing hope and unity, for instance) and because he likely didn’t expect such harsh opposition, didn’t do as good a job defending himself as he could have. 

Joanna: I agree with Kat, but I’d also add Harris to the overconfident list. She thought she could attack Biden and get those results, but it didn’t work, and after that plan backfired, she didn’t talk as much in the second hour.

Atharva: Kat, I agree that attack by Gillibrand on Biden was pretty damning. His statement from the Op-Ed seemed sort of evangelical, which the Democratic base isn’t going to like. I don’t think, though, that Gillibrand used the full potential of that piece of information. It worked but she didn’t exhaust its full potential. What do you say to that?

Kirsten Gillibrand via Wikimedia

Kat: Gillibrand definitely could’ve expanded an attack on Biden based on that quote alone, but she just kept asking him if he still believed it. The fact that he apparently believed it at some point enough to write a whole Op-Ed is, I think, enough for Democrats to have second thoughts about him. That was one of the most heated moments of the debate for Biden and will likely be played over and over on television. Gillibrand could have taken advantage of that attention and pointed out everything that the quote implied — the sexism, the quasi-evangelism, and in general how he apparently stood in complete opposition to current Democratic beliefs.*

Joanna: I’m going to semi-disagree with Kat there, I think that Gillibrand’s attack came from the right place, but her usage of the evidence was honestly pretty bad. Biden was able to acknowledge that it was long ago, and I think it could have been more heated if she pushed him on better longer topics. I just feel like it was stagnant and Gillibrand didn’t use her advantage well.

Chloe: I agree with Kat. When Gillibrand responded the second time, she had the option to talk about basically anything else that the quote implied but didn’t. She didn’t have to reiterate that there was concrete evidence, it spoke for itself. She could have used a different angle to show the audience why Biden’s comments proved that he shouldn’t be president. Gillibrand’s evidence was very smart and a good find, but it’s a waste when Gillibrand couldn’t properly rebut the evidence after Biden’s response.

Atharva: Well enough. Anyone who wants to add something to Gillibrand’s accusation? I think it was interesting how that exchange ended with him being like “I don’t believe in it, I never did” but he actually did write it and no one else (not even Gillibrand) pushed him.

Kat: Weren’t the moderators trying to move them on?

Atharva: Well, they let Kamala attack him about his insinuation that Gillibrand only criticized him now because she’s running for president and in regards to his recently-altered position on the Hyde Amendment. As we stated earlier, there was sheer chaos on the stage tonight.

Atharva: Moving on, I think we can all agree that Tulsi’s attack on Kamala and the evidence she provided was quite damning and bold. We even saw Kamala trying to clear it up by stating all the good things she had done as California AG in her closing statement. What do you guys think it says about Gabbard’s stance going forward and how will it affect the dialogue around Kamala Harris already tainted record as a prosecutor?

Tulsi Gabbard via CNN

Joanna: I think that this accusation was one of the smartest of the night, and I think Gabbard made a big move with this one. She was very bold toward Harris and never backed down, and Harris couldn’t disagree with what Gabbard was saying. You could definitely tell that this was one of the moments when Harris was flustered, she stumbled trying to answer and didn’t seem very confident in what she was saying. I think that this is going to draw lots of attention to Harris’s past as a prosecutor, and the many things she’s done contradict with some of the ideals she’s running on. I think that Harris didn’t handle the situation well either. By bringing it up in the end and trying to justify it, she’s reminding viewers of and acknowledging her screw-ups. This was definitely Gabbard’s biggest moment tonight.

Kat: Harris was already having to defend herself often, and Gabbard did add onto that. However, Gabbard is still a relatively minor candidate with little name recognition. Also, there were times when Gabbard was vague or not making sense, like towards the end of the debate when she was saying “It’s all a big lie.” Her attack certainly brought Harris down, but I don’t think it boosted Gabbard that much.

Joanna: Kat, I don’t think Gabbard did well for most of the night, but I do think this moment was pretty good for her.

Kat: True, but Harris was already getting attacks from multiple sides.

Joanna: While that is true, for me, I don’t think Harris rebutted this one well, and this was one of if not the boldest accusations of the night. Harris needed to fire back strong, and she didn’t deliver. I think it’s going to hurt in the long run.

Chloe: I think Gabbard’s going to have to expand on her words more and really delve into what she could do as president that Kamala didn’t do as a prosecutor. Instead of falling back on her success by continuing to attack Kamala, her best strategy is to pick up where she left off and state how she would legalize marijuana and not incarcerate underprivileged individuals for marijuana use, not block evidence that could free innocent people, and use criminals serving extra time for cheap labor. I think Harris did the best she could, but after months of her shady prosecutor record being swept under the rug, it’s finally brought to the spotlight and could mean a loss of the 5% gain she had in the polls after her first debate. Furthermore, I agree with Joanna, Gabbard didn’t necessarily do well during the debate, but if she plays her cards right, she could gain more traction by proving how she could handle criminal justice better than Harris.

Atharva: Let’s talk about another lesser-known candidate and how they fare in the debate. Gov. Inslee has a very good record on health care and has done a lot in Washington State with near-universal health care. People thought that he would highlight that more in order to create some buzz but he majorly stuck to his brand i.e. climate change. The only time it was brought up was by a moderator in order to give Inslee a window to expand on it. Was that a mistake or did he actually do the right thing by staying in his lane? 

Jay Inslee via Wikimedia

Chloe: I think Inslee missed a chance to expand on the most debated issue during the debate. While I think Inslee was right to make climate change one of his priorities, he might be missing out on a big conversation that could possibly garner him more voters, especially since he has a very clean record in health care, as stated above.

Joanna: I disagree with Chloe, I think he did the right thing by staying in his lane. Inslee was able to keep one thing strong, and I think that’s what he needs to do. He’s already in deep water, and I think that by focusing on one thing, he’ll keep himself memorable. It was probably a good decision to just focus on climate change. There’s a small chance he’ll qualify for the fall debates, but if he wants to make his mark, he’s better off not clouding it with other things.

Chloe: Inslee still wasted his potential and could have gone off and emphasized his accomplishments in health care. That would have secured his position more and would have allowed him more credibility since health care was the most discussed topic in the entire debate. I understand where Joanna is coming from and I do think sticking to his lane was a smart strategy because it allowed him to distinguish himself among the rest of the candidates. However, if you’re president you have to understand how to tackle any issue the best way you can and for Inslee, it seems he only knows how to do that with climate change

Kat: I think it was a mistake for him to solely focus on climate change. As we saw by the issues that got the most screen time, many voters, especially moderates, don’t want to constantly hear about climate change. They don’t want to be reminded of the looming extinction of the human race. From now on Inslee will be known, especially among them, as the “climate change guy”. Healthcare is a more relatable issue and it makes him seem more committed and well-rounded to focus on multiple things.

Atharva: Who, if anyone, did you think salvaged their campaign tonight?

Kat: Cory Booker performed very well. Because Harris and Biden were the main targets, he didn’t receive as many personal attacks. When he was questioned, he didn’t shrink away from the issue and presented as prepared and confident. He also pointed out how his competitors kept folding to the GOP in their statements and rhetoric and how the party has to unite to beat Trump.

While Michael Bennet is still a long-shot candidate, he did better than I expected. He seemed unafraid of all the banter, used his experience to give himself credibility, and pointed out the importance of education reform during the criminal justice discussion, which got a lot of applause.

Chloe: Maybe Gabbard and possibly Yang. I remember last time, Gabbard was deemed one of the losers by a few sites but after she slammed Harris on her past prosecutorial record, she might have a chance to save her campaign and reach the fall debates. On the other hand, Yang, who already has the donor requirement, did better than last time however may still struggle to make it to the next debates if his poll numbers don’t get any higher. Castro, whom I almost forgot to mention, has also just reached the donor requirement, but after a steady performance in both the first and second debate, he may see a rise in the polls that would secure him a podium in the September debate.

Joanna: I don’t think anyone really deep in hot water salvaged their campaign tonight. At first, I was considering saying that Inslee might have made his mark, but I just don’t feel like what he said is going to be enough to save him. His climate game was strong, and he was okay all around, but nothing stood out to me. Gillibrand had so much potential with that Biden attack, but she just completely missed the mark. I disagree with Kat on Bennett, I think he’s basically done, he barely got any speaking time and the time he did get wasn’t spent memorably. The people who performed well (notably Booker and Castro), aren’t really in hot water, to begin with. In my opinion, Gabbard’s remark gave her a really big boost. I almost think it made up for the rest of her pretty mediocre performance. She definitely, as previously mentioned, took advantage of that, but I wouldn’t put her in hot water, to begin with, either. The people who needed it most weren’t able to salvage their campaigns tonight. I doubt we’ll be seeing any of them in the fall debates. 

Atharva: I do agree with Kat, Cory Booker did have a good night. There are some loopholes in his answers about The ACLU applauding him about what happened in Newark. He painted an overly rosy picture of that and Biden wasn’t able to put out the facts about it even though he seemingly planned this attack beforehand. And yes, he came off as the “stop the infighting” candidate.

Chloe: Bennet, Inslee, and possibly De Blasio are practically done with their race. Yang, to my surprise, is still holding out but we’ll just have to see when we reach September.

Joanna: Chloe, I agree with everything except Yang, he really didn’t talk about anything except economy, and he just tried to create a flow with this one thing and seemed semi-uneducated on all the other issues, just trying to make up for his lack of knowledge with personal anecdotes. Although he’s qualified to the debates already, his performance tonight wasn’t good, both because he wasn’t sure what he was saying and also because he got such a small amount of air time.

Chloe Z: Atharva, I think his approach to the infighting was an extra step from Kamala’s comments in the previous debate when she said we needed to not have a “food fight” but find a way to put “food on the table”. He constantly brought up the issue of division and political polarization, and I think that made Booker look really good as the guy that held the middle ground and a level head. It was a smart approach.

Atharva: Agreed. It was an extension of Kamala’s strategy from the last debate but he executed it well.

Kat: I think Booker was fortunate in who CNN grouped him with. I suspect that, had he been on stage with Warren and Sanders, they might have outdone him and he wouldn’t have stood out as much. Furthermore, I basically agree with Joanna on Bennet. I’m just saying his performance could have been a lot worse since he’s not the most progressive or charismatic. However, I think the main challengers are basically solidified at this point, and I doubt Bennet is one of them. 

Atharva: Continuing on candidates staying on brand, let’s talk about Yang. From his opening statement to his remakes on even things like climate change, he repeatedly found a way to plug in “a grand a month” plan. Do you think it helped him or should he have tried diversifying?

Joanna: I think that for Inslee, sticking to one idea and streamlining was smart because he needed to be memorable. For Yang, this strategy definitely backfired and blasted him in the opposite direction. As I said, this made him appear uneducated. Because he’s already qualified, he doesn’t need to necessarily be memorable, he needs to know the issues. While he is very confident in economics, the rest of his answers were just made of lots of fluff and then a plug on economics. Yang needs to educate himself on other issues if he wants to make it past the next debate, right now he seems to be clinging onto economics and that’s just not working for him.

Chloe Z: Not at all. People will either buy into Yang’s plan or completely laugh at it. But in truth, there are better ways to go about solving the issue of income inequality, health care, climate change and basically any other topic that directly concerns money (which might as well be every political topic, in all honesty, one way or another). Moreover, I don’t see how Yang’s plan could work- giving 1,000 dollars to an adult won’t solve any problems, and may actually result in more problems. If you give a 1,000 dollars each month to a struggling drug addict, they might just blow all their money on drugs, increasing the trafficking rates and making things worse. I also fully agree with what Joanna is saying and don’t think Yang’s strategy is helping him

Atharva: Joanna, are you saying that Yang is Marianne Williamson + economics?

Chloe: Atharva, this isn’t directed towards me, but saying Yang is “Marianne + economics” is literally him in a nutshell.

Joanna: No, I think that at least Williamson was able to talk about issues passionately. Yang had nothing to say but fluff and just tried over and over to circle back to economics, where he actually can solidly stick up for himself. While Williamson actually answered questions, Yang tried to dodge them, always trying to seek shelter with economics. So no, I don’t really think he’s Williamson + Econ, I just think he’s Econ.

Kat: Yang is kind of like Williamson in that he was the only candidate there with no political experience. He also seemed overly focused on being telegenic and charismatic (like making a joke that he’s the opposite of Trump because he’s an Asian/math nerd). He also kept going back to job automation, which I doubt will get him anywhere because it’s not currently a hot-button issue or possibly even that relevant since the US has shifted from manufacturing to service jobs. I agree with Joanna that if he’s serious about winning, he should diversify. His proposal to give every American adult a thousand dollars a month also seems poorly thought out. The question remains of where Yang would get the money, and there are much more comprehensive ways to mitigate income inequality rather than just doling out money. 

Atharva: Moving on, Chloe, whose healthcare plan stood out to you? How was the discussion about healthcare different from the one that played out yesterday? Also, did Kamala manage to clear up doubts about that newly-released messy healthcare plan or did she burn all her oil on Biden during Healthcare discussion?

Chloe: I think Harris’ and Biden’s plans stuck out to me the most since they did begin the debate by starting a fight. Both candidates kept going back and forth about the expenses and cons of each plan: Biden arguing Harris may lose 3 trillion dollars while Harris argued Biden couldn’t cover 10 million people by continuing ObamaCare. I think one of the biggest differences between the first and tonight’s debate was how Sanders and Warren kept discussing the big corporations and how they were sucking out the money from the middle class, while in this debate, it was mostly going back and forth with petty arguments between the different candidates. Either way, they were both slightly similar and overlapped in a few ways when they mentioned “Medicare for All”. Furthermore, I doubt Harris cleared up doubts about her healthcare plan since Biden poked holes in it, but Harris took a few stabs at Biden’s plan too and it looks like both candidates are going to have to find ways to regain credibility for their healthcare plan. If Biden’s attacks were stronger, it might have been the same case with Gabbard’s attacks on Harris about her record but he missed the opportunity.

Joanna: No one’s health care plan stood out to me. All of them spent the entire portion just squabbling over nothing. Instead of focusing on how their plans could truly help, the healthcare portion of this debate got split into three main arguments. 1) price, 2) full public vs public and private, and 3) random slews and attacks on things that were not relevant. This was the first part of the debate, and Harris was so into trying to attack Biden that she just kept bringing him in over and over, and I didn’t really learn anything on anyone’s healthcare bill. Instead of focusing on why her bills might be so great, Harris focused on things that didn’t even matter, like who wrote her bill. She was also weirdly contradictory, and actually confused me even more on her already very messy healthcare plan. On one instance, she said that she knew people who only wanted their jobs for healthcare and then said that people don’t like healthcare from their jobs. Then why would they be staying at their jobs? As soon as she said that, I just lost her. Biden’s plan also didn’t work for me though, he just kept trying to counter Harris and just kept bringing up that his plan was cheaper. He hinged too much on Obama’s plan and nothing he said stood out. The debate was so oriented on minute factors of the healthcare process that I wasn’t swayed by anyone’s plan.

Kat: Inslee stood out for me in that, unlike the other candidates, he could confidently say that he was able to get universal coverage for his constituents, including mental health care. I don’t think Kamala was able to defend her plan very well because she had to spend time clearing up the Sebelius misunderstanding. We also saw multiple people talk about the right to choose your insurance even though they were touting different healthcare plans, which was confusing. If someone was completely uneducated about the candidates, then the proposals would have all blended together.

Chloe: I agree with Joanna. Now that I think of it, Harris and Biden’s plans stuck out the most because they kept attacking one another’s and recycling the same points. They could’ve all done better.

Kat: We didn’t actually learn much about either of their healthcare plans or the key differences between them.

Atharva: As we witnessed in nearly all four of the debates that have happened until now, Donald Trump is an issue that unites all Democrats but their stances vastly differed when it came to impeachment. What do you guys think of where the candidates were at when it came to impeachment? There were strong arguments that were made on both sides of it.

Kat: Everyone asked agreed that Trump must be defeated in some way, but they split as to how. Booker and Castro, who are more progressive, were both openly in favor of impeachment. Kamala didn’t agree to support impeachment, but she did say that there should be a consequence because no one is above the law (perhaps implying that she’d prosecute after he leaves office). It was the moderates — De Blasio and Bennet — who thought that the best way to defeat Trump was to do so in the 2020 election. It’s similar to the current situation in the House of Representatives, with more radical Democrats in favor of impeachment and centrists being more hesitant and more focused on voting him out of office. 

Joanna: Well, I’m glad they’re united on something: they all hate Trump. I don’t really think there were necessarily strong arguments on the against impeachment side, just people didn’t openly say they would do it. I don’t think impeachment was really given enough time for candidates to do any back and forth, so I feel like the discussion was partially stifled. However, I would say that at least they’re united on one thing and that the democratic candidates (at least tonight) will stand together in the face of Trump, which for the party is probably a relief to see after witnessing all the rest of the severe cannibalism from the last two nights.

Chloe: I honestly think the discussion of Trump wasn’t necessary for the candidates. They had already made it very clear in their opening statements and other responses that they believed that Trump needed to be taken down. I feel like the whole segment would’ve just been politicians using pathos to appeal to Democratic voters that would already do whatever they could do vote out Trump, but maybe I’m wrong.

Joanna: I agree with Chloe, I think that time could have been used on more pressing issues. Gun control didn’t even get coverage tonight and it is a big issue for the party that should have at least been touched upon.

Kat: In addition, if the Democrats want to win in 2020, they need to be unified and passionate about their own candidate, and not just about Trump. They’ve established that they are all opposed to Trump. Their next goal should be to establish a strategy to defeat him and reverse his actions once in office that they can all agree on. 

Atharva: People are saying that if anyone won this debate, it was Elizabeth Warren because we saw no match for her energy and policy strength on the second night. Is there any candidate in particular that you would like to see go against Warren in the next debate?

Chloe: Good question. I’m still waiting to see a showdown or at least an interaction between Kamala Harris and Warren since they are both female senators with a really strong character. However, Biden being the former vice president and practically bait for every other candidate, it only seems like a good idea to pit Warren against Biden and see how they get along in the fall. Gabbard -who was the most-searched candidate on the Internet-  would have an interesting debate with Warren since I remember Gabbard mentioning big corporations and how they keep taking money from families, which happens to be a big talking point in Warren’s responses.

Joanna: I personally don’t think that Warren held a huge sweep last night. I think next to Sanders, Warren wasn’t the boldest person and seemed overshadowed by Sanders. She needs to go against Sanders again and regain her stamina because when she wasn’t the top dog progressive, she didn’t perform well. There needs to be a second showdown with Sanders and Warren, I don’t feel like I need to see Biden or Harris by Warren, I feel like she can out policy both of them. She was very assertive in the first debate and Biden and Harris keep making jabs at each other. I feel like they would have very little to say to Warren. Yesterday, the shock for me was that Sanders was able to hold his ground extremely well. Yes, he was interruptive, but he was very clear cut and Warren didn’t step up to the plate as well as she could have. No one from the second night needs to go against Warren, she needs to redeem herself with Sanders.

Kat: I’d be interested in how Harris and Warren would handle each other since Harris seems quite progressive but was frequently attacked for her prosecutor record. I’m curious as to whether Warren would also focus on the record or on Harris’s policy. I think both Booker and Biden should go up against Warren because, due to tonight’s squabbling, we didn’t get as good of a sense of how progressive/moderate both of them are. In Biden’s case, Warren might make a good foil. In Booker’s case, we could actually see the little differences between her plans and his, as well as gauge how prepared he is and how well he performs under pressure (since he wasn’t the recipient of most of the pressure tonight). 

Atharva: To Kat’s point, I think putting anyone against Warren really clears out how progressive/moderate they are. Also, I think generally having Warren and Sanders in a panel really makes the conversation policy-oriented and not anything like what we saw tonight.

Kat: I agree that Warren does have a tendency to put policy front and center, but I’m not sure about Sanders. He likes to circle back to his “millionaires and billionaires” talking points and seems reluctant to diversify. But Warren will grill candidates until she understands clearly what their policy is, what she likes about it, and what she doesn’t.

Atharva: Last question for the night. I’m gonna pose this to Joanna first because she recently did a piece about it and then the others can state their views on it. Joanna, I think today was a new low for “Dem-on-Dem cannibalism” and infighting in general. Basically, everyone attacked Biden and Biden lashed out and then there was Tulsi and Kamala. This is all well and good to gain traction in the primary but how will it play out in the general election? If it keeps going at this pace, will democrats’ worst fears of a 2016 split be repeated come true?

Joanna: I think all the democrats acknowledged the coming out of the “Dem-on-Dem cannibalism”. As a result, many of them tried to appear cordial to each other on stage, especially in the beginning, when Harris made an effort to hug everyone and all of that. Clearly, all of that affection was just for show. Part of the reason why this debate was just so unsatisfying was that it was so far away from what the debate should have been, on politics. Instead, this debate became a childish slew of attacks, each one less focused than the last. 

Of course, the Democrats need to play around a little bit. They need to challenge each others’ views and prove why they come out on top. But they need to do it through policy, not through name-calling and finger-pointing. Tonight, the candidates took advantage of each other’s weaknesses, exploiting the same loopholes Harris used to boost her popularity in her dem debate. But as seen, this party unity can only be pushed to a certain point before it all falls off the edge. Tonight was a signal that if the democratic party and the presidential nominees don’t pull it together and don’t focus on policy, they’re ultimately making the case worse for themselves. The fact that the members of the party are so willing to beat each other up should be extremely concerning for everyone involved. So yes, in the end, if this keeps happening, I think that the Democrats are diving into the same trap they fell into in 2016, and worse, this time, they all know that they’re doing it. Clearly if nothing else, tonight shows that the Democrats can’t come together as a party. 

It’s very concerning when the only thing glueing the party together is that they all hate Donald Trump.

Why Democratic Cannibalism During Election Season Might Break the Party Again

Atharva: So in a way, the Democrats, if they keep pursuing the same route, will be practising the “Trump Doctrine” of no moral and ethical bars held in politics? Is that what you’re trying to say, Joanna?

Joanna: For sure. The Democrats know that they’re benefiting off of candidate weakness. That’s why so many of them went after Biden tonight. They need to bring others down to bring themselves up. In the beginning, Harris said she would never talk bad about Biden, but that’s all she tried to do all night. I think that all of them need to stay more civil. If they used their time more wisely, on things like actually talking about policy, there would be a more conducive environment when we could really witness issues against issues. Unfortunately, the attacks seemed to swallow up the night.

Chloe: I think the fear of the split is very real. We see this happening generally across the Republican party a few years back and possibly still now, and political polarization is on the rise more so now than ever with Trump’s presidency. We may come to a point where we see a bigger split than the one in 2016 and tonight only proved that with the debacle that was a debate. We’re even seeing an issue within the House, between Pelosi and the Squad, and it seems to be kind of the same way for the candidates that were on stage tonight. I agree with Joanna, there definitely is a problem when really the only thing that could unite the Democrats, for barely a minute, was President Trump. The candidates’ lack of focus on policy was incredibly concerning when considering the possible future for the Democratic party when there is already the bridging of the divide between the more moderate and progressive thinkers.

Kat: I also think it’s important to mention that CNN egged them on. The moderators let the banter escalate and purposefully brought certain candidates together for questions that they knew would fight. It appeared that all CNN cared about was an exciting spectacle so that they could get higher ratings and more money. They’re behaving in exactly the way they behaved in 2016 when they produced hours upon hours of Trump coverage and the email controversy because it made for more entertaining TV. Secretary Clinton lost partially because of this sort of sensationalist news coverage. 

Another thing I’d like to point out is that I’m seeing similarities between the 2020 Democratic primaries and the 2016 Republican primaries. Before Trump was nominated, the debates were riddled with attacks and banter, there was a split between Trumpism and traditional conservatism, and the only thing the candidates could seem to agree on was that they wanted to beat Clinton. There was talk of the Republican Party being dead and fractured beyond repair. However, the GOP united behind Trump once he was nominated, and now he is our President and his party controls the Senate and Supreme Court. Joanna and Chloe, do you guys think a similar prediction be made for the Democrats? And if not, why?

Atharva: I think Kat makes an interesting point because the Tea Party movement within the GOP really fractured the party and made the environment conducive enough for Trump to do a hostile takeover.

Joanna: Kat, I think the thing that has changed in the 2020 Democratic primaries is that there isn’t just one Trump, there are 10. The division is already pretty bad for it being this early on. In 2016, most of the initial GOP field stayed relatively civil, and debates were still policy-oriented. That’s a little better than what this Democratic Debate saw. The scare now is that if party polarization goes too far, people might not unite behind the Democratic candidate during the GE, just like they didn’t all rally around Clinton.

Chloe: A similar prediction could be made for the Democrats, but I think that depends on who is weeded out and who stays in the next debates taking place in September. Then we can begin to see what could happen that would create a divide between the parties or not. However, I don’t fully agree with Joanna here, I feel like you are kind of making it sound like the Hunger Games, which to an extent, kind of was, but if the candidates manage to keep their cool and if some of the bad apples who can’t shut up (Delaney and de Blasio I suppose) can’t make it any further then maybe we can save a divide between the Democrats in their 2020 primaries.

Joanna: In 2016, Sanders carved out such a harsh divide between him and Clinton that by the time they came around, 12% of those voters who would have voted for Sanders flipped and turned to Trump, that might happen again this time.

Atharva: That is a concern with Kat voiced yesterday and it is a valid one too.

Chloe: Yes, people literally voted for Trump because they didn’t like siding with Hillary, just proving that this issue between the Democrats still isn’t fully resolved and may come to haunt us later.

Atharva: Someone on stage yesterday did say that people voted for Trump instead of Hillary to “shake up the status quo”. Something which is sort of true because I think everyone will agree that not everyone who voted for Trump in 2016 necessarily did so solely because they subscribed to his rhetoric.

Joanna: I definitely think there are other reasons why people also voted for Trump, apart from rhetoric. In reality, there’s no true way to gauge what the reason was, but we definitely know that division was one of the more major reasons. That’s why it’s so concerning to see what’s happening right now

Kat: However, even the only semi-committed Trump voters were willing to ignore his various pronouncements because they thought that Secretary Clinton was worse. Also, I’m sure that every woman, especially Warren, running for President will be compared to Clinton. Well, I’ll sign off with this — if the Democrats want to win the presidency, they should focus on policy and uniting the party, rather than attacking each other and making a show as we saw tonight. 

Joanna: The “Dem-on-Dem cannibalism” was definitely apparent tonight, but the party can still turn things around. As we enter into the fall debates, where we weed out minor candidates, the debates will be smaller, and hopefully can evolve to be more policy-oriented. The moderators tonight fueled this cannibalism, encouraging long periods of back and forth, but if moderators and candidates alike strive to stay more civil, the party has a chance to recuperate. The party still has about a year before it goes into the General Election, and hopefully, by then, the candidates, and the people behind them will find a way to come together behind their party.

Atharva: As we conclude tonight’s discussion, I want our readers to know that we surveyed our staff about who they thought did the best in the debate. A whopping 67% of those surveyed said that Sen. Cory Booker stole the show tonight. Around 50% of the respondents said that Vice President Biden was the worst performer of the night while 34% were left thoroughly unimpressed by Senator Harris’ performance.

*Please note that the magazine learned about Senator Gillibrand’s mischaracterisation of Former VP Biden’s Oped after the discussion ended. Since this conversation was transcribed as it happened (just right after the debate), the writer couldn’t alter the wording.

Atharva Tewari is the Politics and TV Editor for Affinity Magazine. He was the coach and moderator for this conversation.

Participants:

Chloe Zhao is an Assistant Editor at Affinity Magazine.

Joanna Hou and Kat Falacienski are staff writers at the publication.

Featured Image via Youtube

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