The Biggest Takeaways From First Night Of CNN’s Democratic Debate

July Democratic debate (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A few progressive stalwarts and a bevy of moderates met on the debate stage Tuesday in Detroit for a refreshingly policy-heavy debate. They made their cases based on the minutiae of their health care plans, focused on electability and changed up their stylistic approaches.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the first night of the second round of debates:

This debate began with actual exchanges on policy

Most of the first hour of the debate was spent on health care alone. The questions bounced around and candidates got jabs in here and there — see Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “you’re wrong” to former Rep. John Delaney — but it really came down to the sunlight between their policy differences.

Health care is the No. 1 issue for Democrats, and it’s one rare area where the candidates aren’t in complete lockstep, so it makes sense that the moderates spent so much time on it. But the format definitely hampered any serious policy discussion — it was nearly impossible for candidates to delve into complicated aspects of their plans in mere seconds.

A new Bernie

Sanders, shouting and gesticulating with a furrowed brow, came to this debate much more aggressively than he did the first time around. He didn’t shy away from personal attacks, a tactic which stood out while most of his fellow candidates took pain to address each other with even overzealous politeness.

This exchange with Delaney was typical:

Sanders: “Maybe you did that and made money off of health care, but our job is to run a nonprofit healthcare system. When we save $500 billion a year by ending all of the incredible complexities that are driving ever American crazy.”

Delaney: “His math is wrong. That’s all I’m saying.”

Joe Biden loomed large

While the former Vice President was absent and largely unmentioned, his presence loomed large when the candidates dove into an electability debate, frantically waving the flags of the red states they’d won.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) painted an election where Texas’ electoral votes are on the table; Bullock made sure to remind everyone that the state he governs is ruby red.

Delaney gets the spotlight

For someone who is polling below 1 percent, former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) got the top-tier treatment. He received an inordinate amount of his own questions, and capitalized on those opportunities by extending exchanges with other candidates. His aggressive posture helped too, as it embroiled him in fights with his higher-billing peers. The first question of the entire debate was directed at Sanders, but referenced Delaney.

Moments of levity

The night was not without its lighthearted moments. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper got a laugh when he mimicked Sanders’ famous gesticulations.

The ever-eclectic self help author Marianne Williamson cited a “dark psychic force” in the United States and summed up Democratic talking points that voters don’t buy as “yada, yada, yada.”


Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: