Hey there, we’re at the site of the second Democratic debates in Detroit, Mich., where things have just wrapped up. I’m Asma Khalid, one of the campaign reporters for NPR. I’m Domenico Montanaro, political editor. And so, Domenico, I would say
one of the key takeaways for me tonight was there was a lot of pre-debate chatter about whether or not the progressive icons, Bernie Sanders the senator from Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, whether or not they would actually clash with one another. And they really didn’t clash. They actually had each other’s back throughout the debate. And instead we saw a number of the more moderate candidates try to critique some of
their public policies such as “Medicare for All,” or getting rid of private health insurance. “At the end of the day I’m not going to support a plan that rips away quality health care from individuals. This is an example of wish-list economics. It used to be just Republicans wanted to repeal and replace. Now many Democrats do as well.” “Let’s be clear about this. We are the Democrats. We are not about trying to take away health care from anyone. That’s what the Republicans are trying to do. And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about
how to best provide that health care.” We saw a lot of these moderate candidates really come out swinging right from their opening statements. You had Gov. Steve Bullock,
who got left off the stage the last time. This is the first time in the debate lineup for him. He’s the governor of Montana, and he has stressed repeatedly that he’s won in a red state in a place that President Trump has won, and he’s one of these people who feels like the Democratic Party has sort of moved away from understanding that part of the country, and he really made his case, came out very strongly — I thought he had a real strong night.
I think that a lot of people didn’t know who he was, if you’re a moderate Democrat who is looking for that kind of candidate, you have another option now, especially if you know former Vice President Biden winds up fading. He’s in the debate tomorrow night. Did not have a great debate the very first time he debated. You saw John Delaney, the former congressman from Maryland, really try to go after Elizabeth Warren for example, but she was able to really parry back at him and had one of the lines of the night. “So I think Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises.
When we run on things that are workable, not fairy-tale economics.” “You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the
United States just to talk about what we really can’t do
and shouldn’t fight for.” And I think the pushback to this to me that was really interesting is we did see
some of the more direct criticism go after Bernie Sanders rather than Elizabeth Warren, which to me was interesting because
it allowed Warren to come off as the more pragmatic choice of the two. Right, well Sanders is an easy foil for the moderates because they can say he goes way too far left, here are all the things he wants to do, he embraces the socialist moniker — which Elizabeth Warren doesn’t, right? She says, I’m a capitalist, firmly.
She wants big structural change. She wants more regulation.
She wants to work within the system. She’s sort of — we’ve said this before on the podcast —
that she wants to kind of gut the house, but leave the framework
of the house in place. If it’s up to Sanders, he’s going to
blow up the house and you know create a completely different one. At the end of the night here, because there was such a rich tension, I would say, such an intense fight between the progressive and the moderates. Do you feel that one side of this conversation won out overall when we talk about what Democrats are looking for?
Was one side more compelling or made their case?
Well, you know, what I had been hearing from a lot of Democratic strategists after the
first round of debates was how frustrated they were seeing Democrats raise their hands to policies that they felt like were going too far to the left. to win an election in the fall. When they felt like there was a broad array of Democratic policies that the country actually likes. They’re very much in favor of, but not things like decriminalizing border crossings.
Not things like giving immigrants in the U.S. illegally free health care. Not necessarily even things like free college for everyone. Those are things they feel like go too far when they test these things.
And then we did our poll the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll,
and a lot of that then came true where there are a lot of Democratic policies that are very popular but a few of those things, not so much. And I think that’s what some of the clapback was
tonight, with the moderates feeling like they need to take more of the reins of the party to say hey guys this is not…
Did they accomplish, you think, what they needed to do? I think for the first time they didn’t seem guilted into not talking about those things. Whereas I feel like the Twitterverse, sort of woke-topia universe, had been dominating the narrative and making people, making moderates feel
guilty about talking about some of these more moderate issues that they were able to do tonight. So one last thing before we go. There are a number of candidates
who were onstage tonight who will likely not be with us when we get to the next debate, the third debate in September,
which will be in Houston. And that’s because the DNC has stricter criteria to make the next debate. There’s a higher fundraising threshold and a higher polling threshold as well. So, Domenico, why don’t you walk us through
some of the folks who who will not be with us…
Or might not, right? Might not. We should not get ahead of ourselves, yes. Marianne Williamson has become something of a meme throughout the primary with the ways — with her affect, with the way she talks,
she’s a spiritualist and author, certainly very different. Not an elected leader. She may very well not be in the fall debates.
John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado, hasn’t qualified yet.
John Delaney, the congressman from Maryland, who got into those back-and-forths
over moderate policies with Elizabeth Warren.
These are people who need to have some breakouts so that they become
better known to have raised their polling floor, or to gain more
donors, some of them have one or the other. Amy Klobuchar, also for example, senator from Minnesota, really needed to do something
tonight because she’s not quite there on both of those things too.
I believe that we have seven candidates to date who’ve qualified for that September debate.
But anyhow, we are going to leave it there for now, but we will be back here tomorrow night. And of course you can always tune in
and catch more coverage on the NPR Politics Podcast. Take a listen there.