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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Quick Takes on the Third 2020 Presidential Debate

“Warren had a strong performance. For instance, she may have had the line of the night by shooting down a Delaney attack by asking why someone would run for president if they don’t have big ideas and plans. Warren has been firm and aggressive in defense of her progressive views, continuing to use the word “fight” over and over again when describing how she’ll take on Trump and change the country. I don’t think she’s going to necessarily rocket up further in the polls, but she’s positioned herself to be a strong contender for the nomination heading into the fall.” – Geoffrey Skelley at FiveThirtyEight.

“Steve Bullock: The Montana governor, to his immense credit, understood that this debate was his one big chance to make an impression with voters — and move from the third tier upward. I’m not sure if his numbers will move in a major way, but Bullock went for it — from his opening statement on. He made clear, time and time again, that he did not believe that the liberal views of Warren and Sanders were grounded in reality and did believe that those views would cost Democrats the election…If moderates were looking for someone other than former Vice President Joe Biden to support in this primary, Bullock offered himself as a viable alternative.” – Chris Cillizza at CNN Politics.

“…While Sanders and Warren correctly pointed out the problems with “good” private insurance ― namely that it’s at the whim of employers and frequently leaves very sick people with huge bills ― they never acknowledged the core political reality that polls have shown repeatedly and as recently as this week: Support for Medicare for All drops dramatically when people hear that enrollment in a new government plan would be mandatory.” – Jonathan Cohn at HuffPo.

“My bottom line–I’m not sure whether any of these five will surge in the polls or be on the debate stage in September. But I think both Bullock and Delaney have succeeded in pushing the Democratic 2020 debate to the center. And I think there’s an outside chance that Bullock actually gets a look from the party.” – Perry Bacon, Jr. at FiveThirtyEight.

“The “moderates,” desperate for a big moment and probably (as my colleague Jonathan Chait suggests) looking to become a back-up option to Joe Biden if he fades, obliged — some through substantive criticisms and others alluding to their fear of public opinion and Republican attacks. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, whose views were generally being challenged by moderators and rivals alike, fired back lustily, too, with Warren emulating and sometimes exceeding Bernie’s customary tone of righteous indignation.” – Ed Kilgore at New York Magazine.

“Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), a candidate who has gained no traction, summed up the critique about an hour into the debate. “In this discussion already tonight, we’ve talked about taking private health insurance away from union members in the industrial Midwest, we’ve talked about decriminalizing the border, and we’ve talked about giving free health care to undocumented workers when so many Americans are struggling to pay for their health care,” Ryan said. “I quite frankly don’t think that is an agenda that we can move forward on and win.” – Andrew Prokop at Vox.

“Ten Democratic candidates struggled to overcome an abysmal debate format and moderators bent on forcing them to address right-wing talking points and attack each other. Some managed to rise nonetheless. Others continued to spur only questions about why, exactly, they were on stage to begin with. Once again, the winners were the progressive policies shaping the race and, by extension, the two candidates who have championed and driven those policies into the national debate…” – Laura Clawson at Daily Kos.

Number of words spoken by candidates participating in night one of the second Democratic debate, as of 10:44 p.m. Tuesday. – Annette Choi and Erin Doherty at FiveThirtyEight.

Elizabeth Warren 2,805
Pete Buttigieg 2,651
Bernie Sanders 2,642
Amy Klobuchar 2,043
Beto O’Rourke 1,930
John Delaney 1,815
Steve Bullock 1,804
Tim Ryan 1,770
Marianne Williamson 1,637
John Hickenlooper 1,570

Excludes words spoken in Spanish


“My overall take on the Tuesday scrum was that Bernie and Liz maintained their hold on the party’s divided left and did well enough to stay in second and third (or third and second) positions in the national polls. I also thought Pete Buttigieg found a way to speak to viewers that was no longer in the brightest-kid-in-the-class mode, into which he fell too often during the first set of debates…” – Harold Meyerson at The American Prospect.

“Democrats would do well to act like a sports team, watch the film of this encounter and consider how well Medicare-for-all would hold up on the 2020 battlefield. Tuesday’s test should be sobering.” – E. J. Dionne, Jr. at The Washington Post.

“Besides a few passing mentions to families struggling to pay their bills, Democrats didn’t talk about what they would do to raise people’s wages and incomes. After health care, which got nearly 30 minutes of airtime during the debate, the No. 1 concern Midwestern voters have is about their paychecks.” – Alexia Fernandez Campbell at Vox.

“The fact that Democrats are having this debate at all, however, shows that they recognize the deeper stakes of the 2020 election. Presidential elections are about policy and partisanship and ideology, certainly, but they’re also a test of where America stands. In a time of intense anxiety and fracture, when many Americans in both parties fear that the country is veering away from its fundamental values, Democratic presidential candidates have to offer a vision for how to remedy the country’s broken soul. Otherwise, they may find themselves sitting alone in a hotel room on November 4, surrounded by their stacks of plans with nowhere to go.” – Emma Green at The Atlantic.

“The root flaw of the debate was that because of the luck of the draw, Sanders and Warren weren’t set against the only two moderates who are in their league: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris…All in all, the debate evoked the reverse of the famous lines from W.B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming”—this time, the best were full of passionate intensity, while the worst lacked all conviction. The centrists did not hold.” – Jeet Heer at The Nation.

“…Biden is not just a strong candidate but currently leading the race — and by a pretty large margin. The view on display Tuesday night of two New England progressives taking center stage and shooting down all comers was powerful but doesn’t reflect the actual state of the primary…it’s difficult for debates to move the conversation forward unless the frontrunner engages with his main critics not on obscure aspects of 1970s civil rights policy but on the big issues of 2020. It didn’t happen in the first debate, and the structure of the second one makes it essentially impossible. That means round three, when the roster will narrow and the format will shift to a single stage, will in most respects be the first real contest of the season.” – Matthew Yglesias at Vox.

2 comments on “Quick Takes on the Third 2020 Presidential Debate

  1. Victor on

    With Democrats like these who needs Republicans.

    People like Ryan and Delaney aren’t there because they have a realistic chance of winning. If they are such realists why don’t they withdraw already?

    The answer to Warren’s question of why would anyone run for President to keep things mostly the same is that moderates’ sole reason for running is to start the job of undermining progressive policies before the electorate and Congress even begin to discuss them.

    The President’s main role is to provide intellectual and moral leadership and if they say something can never be done even before there has even been a discussion then they really have no role in the political system other than spoilers.

    The framing of these debates shows just how hard any change will be.

    The real progressives are under assault by centrists and the media while seudo moderates stay silent complicitly.

    There are no major divisions in the Democratic party about policy. The questions are over ambition and speed.

    It is clear that the media and corporate Democrats know that Sanders and Warren need to be undermined so that the slowest of incrementalism continues to be what the Democratic party is about.


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