Spotlight 2020: The Second Democratic Debates

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

This week saw the most successful of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination face off in two debates in Detroit. The twenty candidates who took the stage do not even represent the full slate running for the nomination: four candidates did not meet the minimum requirements to be included on the debate stage, and two have already dropped out.

The first debate, which took place on Tuesday, July 30, featured Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Steve Bullock, John Hickenlooper, John Delaney, Tim Ryan, Marianne Williamson, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke. The debate was notable in that it was much more policy-driven than the first debates in June. The discussion was essentially a battle between the progressive wing of the party (represented by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) and the moderate wing, represented by the remaining candidates.

Night two featured Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, and Bill de Blasio. By the chance of the draw, every minority candidate took the stage on the second night, and candidates debated topics such as the mass incarceration of Black Americans, which was not mentioned at all on the first night of the debates (Marianne Williamson’s impassioned speech about reparations notwithstanding).

During the debates, many news outlets covered the events with live blogs, like these from Fox News and FiveThirtyEight. In the days following, many have published longer analyses of what the debates mean for the future of the race and how they relate to the changing democratic process in the country. For example, a left-leaning article from the Washington Post reflected on how the rhetoric in Democratic debates has changed since the Obama administration. During the 2016 election, candidates were reluctant to criticize President Obama and were happy to appeal to the generally moderate majority of the party. However, under President Trump, the Democratic party has shifted more toward the left, making progressive candidates more inclined to criticize Obama for his moderate policies, a trend that was evident in candidates’ criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden in the second round of the debates.

In contrast, a right-leaning post-debate analysis by Fox News honed in on the internal workings of the debates. The article noted that CNN featured analysis by former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, who has previously prepped Biden before the first round of debates in June. Fox wrote, “[Granholm] later added that Biden was the "piñata" on the debate stage and that he "held his own."

However, there was no disclosure made by the panel's moderator, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, that Granholm had prepped Biden ahead of NBC's debate -- according to Politico.”

The Hill, a centrist news organization, focused its post-debate coverage on polling, noting that Biden maintained his position as frontrunner in a post-debate poll. The former VP currently holds a two-to-one lead over the runner up, Bernie Sanders. The centrist coverage primarily explained where the candidates stood in the race after the debates; The Hill wrote “Biden also leads when voters are asked to name the top three candidates that best share their values, with 46 percent saying Biden, followed by Sanders at 34 percent, Warren at 27 and Harris at 24.”

The next Democratic debates will take place in Houston on September 12 and 13. Candidates must reach both a polling and a donor threshold to qualify. So far, only eight candidates have qualified: Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders, and Warren.