Election 2020: The Fourth Debate

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

This week, twelve of the Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination met onstage on Tuesday for the fourth primary debate. The stage was the most crowded it has ever been, with the twelve candidates talking for three hours about their plans for the country. As an increasingly powerful frontrunner, Elizabeth Warren received a great deal of the attacks. In particular, she was criticized for refusing to say whether her Medicare for All plan would involve raising taxes for the middle class. She also faced criticism from Beto O’Rourke for her wealth tax, which he called overly punitive.

The debate was Bernie Sanders’ first campaign event since suffering a heart attack. When asked about his health and how it would affect his potential presidency, Sanders affirmed that he was prepared to campaign and govern as hard as ever, and delivered a heartfelt thanks to his family and his fellow candidates for their support as he recovered last week. 

The candidates faced more questions  about foreign policy than they have in the past, spurred by President Trump’s decision to remove American troops from Syria, leading to a Turkish invasion and violence against the US’s Kurdish allies. Warren said that she supports withdrawing troops from Syria, although she would have done it in a more measured way, while Joe Biden said that he supported maintaining an American presence in the region.

The debate overall was free of major faux pas. Because Warren took so much of the fire, Biden was a much less noticeable presence on stage than at earlier debates, allowing him to avoid extensive criticism but also preventing him from any notable moments. Pete Buttigieg was responsible for many of the attacks against Warren, as was Amy Klobuchar; this set up a now-familiar battle between the progressives and the moderates onstage. Previous debates have not affected candidates’ polling numbers significantly, but Tuesday’s debate did make clear that the candidates see Warren as a bigger threat than they once did. It also became evident that all the candidates were unwilling to push Joe Biden about his son’s involvement in Ukraine, perhaps in light of the sensitivity of the issue and its involvement in the impeachment proceedings against Trump.

The other major news in the 2020 primary is that after the debate, Sanders received major endorsements from Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. The two are members of the “squad,” a group of female freshman representatives who have often been criticized by Trump for their progressive views. As increasingly popular figures in the Democratic party, they may be able to make a difference for Sanders as voting approaches.