Just a day after President Donald Trump was formally impeached, seven Democratic presidential hopefuls took the stage in the last debate of the year.
Cloud of Impeachment
The debate opened with a question about how the candidates would change the minds of roughly half of the country that doesn’t support impeachment.
The moderators were in an understandably tough spot in coming up with an interesting impeachment question, as there is no sunlight between the candidates on the issue. Still, it didn’t give Democrats much to work with. Democrats could shout until they’re blue in the face — but Trump supporters seem locked in to their opposition to his impeachment. It was a moment of serious skating over of the partisan dynamics currently ruling the country.
Stark Lack of Diversity
Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang was the sole candidate of color on the stage. He was clearly prepared to be asked about it, connecting the winnowing of candidates of color with the truth that only a very small set of people with disposable income can afford to contribute to political campaigns, thereby keeping candidates in the race.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had a misstep on this question, trying to bring it back to a point he wanted to make on climate change. The moderators insisted he answer the question on race instead, eliciting a wave of cheers from the audience and making Sanders look, fair or not, like he was trying to avoid the question.
Very Personal Attacks Between Buttigieg, Warren
A fight between South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) seemed inevitable — and whew, was it ever. The two traded increasingly personal jabs about reliance on big donors, and it got extremely heated as Buttigieg pointed out Warren’s personal wealth.
Warren shot back that she doesn’t “sell access to her time,” mentioning Buttigieg’s infamous wine cave fundraiser. Buttigieg calls it a “purity test,” but it’s an integral difference in their campaigns: he routinely holds expensive-to-attend fundraisers with wealthy donors; Warren prefers large and public events.
Two other candidates — Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Yang — also name-checked the “wine cave” in later answers.
Outsize Klobuchar Attention
For someone who consistently polls at the bottom of the pack, Klobuchar got a ton of air time Thursday night. She has proven herself adept at forcing her way into the conversation, even when the moderators don’t initially include her.
She seemed to get time at the expense of candidates like Warren, who is polling much higher, but was left out of many major exchanges.
Biden mentioned a boy he met on the campaign trail with a stutter, an allusion to his own condition that become more well known with a widely-circulated profile in the Atlantic.
Per the profile, he is loathe to talk about his own stutter, having suffered mockery for it during his childhood.
Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lost no time in mocking Biden in a tweet almost immediately reviled by political observers.
I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I hhhave absolutely no idea what Biden is talking about. #DemDebate
— Sarah Huckabee Sanders (@SarahHuckabee) December 20, 2019
A Meaty Debate
There was a much smaller crowd than the prior debates Thursday, and it showed. Moderators moved at a break-neck pace from topic to topic, tossing out a wide variety of questions rather than giving every candidate a bite of every issue area. That combined with the smaller group made for more meaningful exchanges and gave each candidate more of an opportunity to get his or her voices heard.