The candidate field was narrowed down significantly for the Third Democratic Debate (hosted by ABC). In light of the newer, more competitive field, members of our politics team sat down to discuss the candidates’ performances and their potential impacts on the polls. Here’s what happened:
Kat: Throughout the debate, there were mentions of unity and coming together over common ground. Do you think it was more beneficial for the candidates to talk about unity than to try to make themselves stand out?
Joanna: Overall I would say that it wasn’t very helpful. I think that the candidates received a lot of backlash for being so divided but bringing up unity was kind of a distraction because no one adhered to it. There was still infighting and just saying “we need unity” isn’t really going to do anything. It didn’t seem like it was a remark that had a lot of substance. Also Castro brought up something along the lines of “the whole point of the debate isn’t to get along”. I think there needs to be a balance between the two of those views. Also today saw a migration away from personal attacks and saw a debate a little more focused on ideology, so it doesn’t appear to be as brutal as it has been before. Maybe that’s because there are less of the moderate/outspoken candidates?
Chloe: The approach was a smarter move than trying to rip apart one another like the last debate in August. Addressing Democratic cannibalism worked for Cory Booker last time, and this time, it worked for Amy Klobuchar too. The real issue for the candidates is a lot of them think that tearing down each other in a smart-aleck way will make them seem more qualified. Frankly, it’s just an unsettling and disorganized three hours in front of your television.
People ask me if Trump is responsible for El Paso — I say he may not have pulled the trigger, but he’s tweeting out the ammunition. #DemDebate
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) September 13, 2019
Joanna: I agree Chloe but I think that Booker’s was effective because he brought it up once when it was heated. With less personal attacks tonight, I think Klobuchar’s came off as a bit strange instead of effective.
Chloe: What concerns me the most in the long run is that the Democratic candidates won’t learn to look beyond personal gain (becoming President) and won’t realize that if they don’t stop cannibalizing each other, Trump will win again. There’s a strong likelihood of that happening.
I agree with Joanna, Klobuchar seemed a little “off” tonight. However, I think Booker’s points about the divide within the Democratic party was well addressed in the last debate.
Kat: Next question: Trump has often been a topic of this debate and of previous ones. Would drawing the focus away from Trump helped the candidates and/or the Democrats in general?
Joanna: Maybe it’s just me, but I thought that they talked about Trump a lot today as well. I think Trump has in some ways become the thing people turn to to criticize when they’re trying to boost their standings? Harris pointed a lot of fingers at Trump today because she was trying to regain standings and most of the candidates seem to turn to him when they’re not getting the audience reaction they need.
Chloe: Candidates such as Kamala Harris took tons of time to talk about the importance of defeating Trump.
Kat: So Joanna, are you saying that Trump is their go-to when they’re not getting enough attention? If so, do you think that’s a good strategy?
Chloe: While Trump has divided the nation greatly by causing the two main parties to hate each other even more, the topic of Trump is one of the only things that Democrats agree on, for better or for worse.
Joanna: I think it works for the most part. I was listening to ABC interview some of the students during breaks and they said that they thought Harris did well because she wasn’t backing down from Trump. As with many things, I think it’s all about finding balance. Obviously they can’t focus too much on him but Trump is a major issue. In some ways, just like they talk about healthcare and policy, Trump has to be brought up because he is an issue to the party.
Kat: How do you guys think tonight’s health care debate compared to previous debates?
Joanna: Hm, I think that it was similar to the previous debates. Obviously we had some side switchers and I think that even though most of the moderates weren’t there tonight, the choice option is really starting to resonate with more of the far left members of the party. It was pretty surprising to me that Biden and Harris were endorsing choice, especially Harris, who’s been kind of on the fence about it before. It’s interesting to see the ideology split over time. I also appreciated how it didn’t last a full hour this time and the moderators were able to cut it off when it became more repetitive, they had a very smart planning strategy.
Chloe: I could’ve watched the previous debates and gotten everything I needed to know. We barely learned anything new. Biden is still arguing with everyone else about costs. Sanders still can’t stop talking about Medicare for All. Buttigieg still wants citizens to pick and choose which health care they want.
I agree with Joanna on the moderator bit. When the candidates seemed like they were heading to a unique talking point, the moderators allowed them to continue. When it was just general talk, they were cut off.
Kat: Turning to the issue of gun control, Beto O’Rourke made it very clear that yes, he wanted to take people’s guns (i.e. AR-15s and AK-47s) away. This is a departure from how liberals have talked about gun control in the past—even the Parkland survivors insisted that they respected the second amendment and that they weren’t “coming for your guns”. Was it smart of O’Rourke to bluntly say, “Yes, I am coming for your guns,”? Why didn’t the other candidates say the same thing?
Chloe: That might not really be O’Rourke’s “strategy” necessarily; I think he was just trying to speak from his heart. Compared to the other candidates, Beto’s ideals are slightly more radical than the others, in part because one of the latest mass shootings that met the headlines was in his hometown, El Paso. Beto probably feels more strongly about this national issue than ever because it hit so close to home, literally.
Joanna: Well I think that it’s also partly because the times have started changing. Beto was hit by the El Paso tragedy and I think that he wants a real call to action, which is why he probably had some leeway to say some of the things he did. I would say that it’s bold. As for if it’s smart, we’ll just have to wait and see. I think that what was smart was to bring up that he visited a gun show, just to show people that he understood those two sides, and when other republicans are saying “we don’t need these guns”, it’s more likely to add credibility to what Beto is saying. It makes Beto’s statement a little less extreme. I think that the other candidates didn’t say the same thing because they didn’t have the leeway to, obviously everyone knew Beto’s hometown was recently affected by the shooting.
Kat: Given that this is a Democratic debate, it was revealing that Andrew Yang supported charter schools and criticized their opponents as being “in bed with teachers’ unions” as though it was bad to be allied with a union. What does that say about him and his political leanings?
Joanna: I think it’s kind of a little bit hypocritical. For one he wants to give everyone “democracy dollars’ that would weirdly help with giving money back to the people, but he’s also in support of a type of school that quite literally is only available to the upper middle class and onwards. I think that it really hurt him because his ideologies are starting to clash and it’s turning confusing. Adding onto his fumbles, what did you guys think about his bribery at the opening, his mention that “I’m asian and so I know a lot of doctors”, or his endorsement of “democracy dollars”?
Chloe: I’m not an expert on charter schools and unions, however I still don’t think that it’s a smart move for Yang. He’s always stood out as a sort of black sheep, and while it’s worked pretty well for him so far, this wasn’t smart at all. The worst case scenario is that it might pit the other more promising candidates (and their supporters) against him.
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) September 13, 2019
Kat: It often appears that Yang is running for President for the attention. In a way, what he’s doing is similar to what Donald Trump did.
Joanna: Yeah it was very strange when he was offering 1,000 dollars to families at the beginning of the debate. It’s very unconventional, and I think it’s a mistake on his part.
Chloe: His bribery at the beginning didn’t unnerve me, but in retrospect, saying that as a part of your opening statement is very strange, and I doubt that’ll have any good consequences for him. If he really nailed this debate, he might secure himself a better place in the next ones, but if he continues to falter, it might be an issue for his campaign. On the other hand, at the beginning of the debates, his $1,000 dividend plan was met with laughs and boos, and now that’s changed to respectful silence or cheers. He’s advancing somewhat and gaining popularity.
I have a question. On immigration, Elizabeth Warren mentioned briefly that the U.S. should get involved in Central America in a “twenty-first century Marshall Plan” to help mitigate the situations that have spurred people to migrate to the U.S. Do you think Central American involvement would be a good talking point or a good plan, given the tumultuous history of the U.S. in that region?
Joanna: I think a lot of candidates have brought that up in the past. I think that it definitely is a strategy to appeal to republicans who are worried about immigration becoming a big issue. It’s all about trying to address the root issues in those countries to prevent immigration. Then again, there have been times in history (particularly in the Middle East) when storming into countries has resulted in disaster. I think this is a risky move, which, while able to appeal to republicans, could ultimately hurt more than it could help. Only time can tell on that one though.
Kat: While giving economic aid to Central America may sound like a good idea, U.S. intervention there has often further destabilized local politics or encouraged economic dependency, and I think there’s too high a chance that’ll happen again.
The Obama-Biden Administration did NOT prosecute asylum seekers, or those coming here in search of opportunity. #DemDebate
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 13, 2019
Kat: On another note, at one point Castro told Biden that he wanted to take credit for all of the most liberal things Obama did while ignoring Obama’s less liberal actions. Was Castro correct? Is Biden, or any other candidate, relying too much on Obama’s legacy?
Joanna: Yes, Biden is definitely relying on Obama too much, but it’s ironic and rather hypocritical that it would be coming from Castro, who has prided himself many times as a member of Obama’s staff. Both of them are using Obama too much to try and remind democrats of who they worked for. However, long term, what Obama did is what Obama did, not what Biden, or Castro, or anyone else did. Biden in particular loves to reference all the work he’s done under Obama (withdrawing troops, which he says he doesn’t regret) but fully shields himself from deportation under the Obama administration. Biden and Castro need to find a way out of talking about Obama and finding their own ideologies, because it’s not comforting if they just try and flashback to the past every time.
Chloe: Yes, especially in this debate. The candidates kept using Obama’s name to advance themselves, and Biden, as former VP, didn’t shy away from it. Castro said what was on my mind exactly: Biden’s hypocrisy is a mistake and doesn’t make him a trustworthy candidate.
Kat: Why is Biden still #1 in the polls, then?
Joanna: He’s still #1 because he’s moderate. It isn’t because he’s been referencing Obama (Castro shows you just how far you can get with that), Biden has been thriving because there are many moderate in between democrats (ones not as moderate as Klobuchar but not as radical as Sanders/Warren) who would prefer Biden over any of the other people. He’s also been in the game for a long time (if not almost the longest time) and so people trust his amount of experience. Obviously there is a part of Obama, but as seen with Castro, being on Obama’s staff is not enough, I think it’s mainly because of his ideology.
Chloe: Democrats like being familiar with a candidate that worked for a favorable, Democratic President that sat in the oval office and preserved the pre-Trump status quo. People like Biden enough to support him compared to everyone else in the polls. They trust him because they’ve witnessed the mess Trump, a newcomer, created during his presidency, and now they want a candidate with experience to lead. For last year’s election, it was the opposite. I agree with Joanna.
Kat: Who did you guys think were the biggest winners and losers of tonight’s debate?
Joanna: I think that the best performance tonight was a toss up between O’Rourke and Biden. I think that both of them, after a couple of mediocre debates, have finally established themselves as stronger players. O’Rourke’s willingness to become more bold and Biden’s ability to strategically answer questions improved tenfold. Both of them branched out and it worked in their favors. The clear two losers tonight were Julian Castro and Andrew Yang. Castro wasn’t as energetic as he has been in previous nights and didn’t say anything new. He’s starting to become a little repetitive and has to focus on things outside of immigration. Yang started by bribing the audience, which was a bit strange, and fumbled time and time again, especially with the “I’m asian and know doctors” reference. It shows that outside of economy he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and the issue with charter schools shows that he doesn’t even have a clear stance on economy.
Chloe: I don’t think any one candidate outshone the others or vice versa but I see a line between the ones who’ll see a boost in their polls or a decline. For me, Beto O’Rourke did better than in previous debates. If he continues this momentum, he may guarantee himself a more secure spot in the race. Furthermore, I think Harris and possibly Yang had the worst performance in the debate. Yang’s bribery in the beginning already set him at a rough place, and he faltered a few times in the debate afterwards. Harris seemed to do worse than she did last debate. While she only laughed a few times then, this time her giggling seemed a little out of control, as if she wasn’t taking anything seriously.
Kat: Last question. How do you think ABC handled this debate compared to CNN?
Joanna: The ABC moderators on this panel were not afraid to call candidates out. They switched topics easily and weren’t afraid to cut people off either. I think these moderators did very well, especially the guest moderator, who was able to poke at significant issues like climate change, which other moderators just brushed by. However, that’s not to say the other moderators were bad, they tried to keep the debate as original as possible (although the amount of anecdotes got tiresome at the end) but overall, this debate was different from other ones I’ve seen before. The moderators also avoided any real infighting clashes, which I thought was awesome.
Chloe: ABC did a very good job. The moderators gave the candidates enough time to talk about their ideas and plans and were more strict when cutting candidates off. This was beneficial considering that candidates frequently chose not to answer questions outright. Many of them shifted the topic and stalled their time by using personal anecdotes. The moderators forced the candidates to become as succinct as possible.
Kat Falacienski is a staff writer at the Affinity Magazine. She was the moderator of this roundtable.
Chloe Zhao is an Assistant Editor at the Affinity Magazine.
Joanna Hou is a staff writer at the Affinity Magazine
Featured Image via ABC Youtube Video (Time: 00:30)