Moderates vs. progressives in Democratic debate
Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren fought off a spirited assault upon progressive policy proposals such as Medicare for All during the first round of the second Democratic presidential debates this week, as moderate rivals cast them as peddling unrealistic, far-left ideas that will only help President Donald Trump win re-election. (The second round of the debate, featuring another 10 candidates, was due to take place after The Week went to press.) On stage in Detroit, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock bemoaned candidates offering “wish-list economics,” while former Maryland Rep. John Delaney warned that Medicare for All—which would phase out private insurance—would “turn off independent voters.” Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper cautioned that if Democrats embrace the Green New Deal, a sweeping progressive plan to fight climate change, we “might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump.”
Sanders and Warren, who place second and third in polls, acted almost in partnership in parrying the attacks. Sanders said grand proposals such as canceling student debt would energize young Americans who might otherwise not vote. Warren castigated her moderate rivals for lacking ambition. “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president,” said the Massachusetts senator, “just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.” Amid the ideological tussle, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg sought to position himself as a compromise candidate, championing a “Medicare for all who want it” policy that would offer a public plan that competed with private insurers.
What the columnists said
Centrists have spotted an opening, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. Following former Vice President Joe Biden’s stumbles in the first debate, candidates such as Delaney, Bullock, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar—all of whom are polling at less than 1 percent—are hoping to grab a big chunk of the moderate voters the front-runner “has had to himself.” But they’ll never do that simply by slamming their left-leaning rivals’ plans; they also have to offer up some ideas of their own.
The debate has “laid bare the divide in the party” over how best to defeat Trump, said Kristen Soltis Anderson in WashingtonExaminer.com. Either go with a “strongly liberal and disruptive agenda or with a more pragmatic, if timid, approach.” But for all their talk of being bold, Warren and Sanders repeatedly dodged tough questions over just “how much their policies will cost and how much they will require average people to change their way of life.” That “isn’t bold or brave at all.”
“A note of interpretive caution,” said John Harris in Politico.com. As much as the first round of debates in Miami left “an exaggerated impression of the party’s leftward drift,” people should be wary of “viewing Detroit as an equally abrupt lurch to the center.” Even avowed centrists such as Delaney talked about hiking taxes on the rich to support liberal policies, while Klobuchar, among others, argued in favor of tighter gun controls. The inevitable conclusion: Democrats as a party are becoming “more progressive and aggressive, even if they are zigzagging a bit along the path.” ■