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10 takeaways from the second 2020 Democratic debate

Kamala Harris draws blood on Joe Biden on race issue; Sanders stands pat as grumpy socialist

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

MIAMI (CFP) — The second flight of 10 Democrats took the stage in Miami Thursday night for the second of two nights of debate among the more than two dozen candidates running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Here’s a recap of some of the key takeaways from the proceedings:

Kamala Harris challenges Joe Biden on race during Democratic debate (From MSNBC)

1. Race and Fireworks: The tussle of the night — and the clip every network will play for days — was between former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California. It began when an emotional Harris took aim at Biden for his recent comments that he was able to work with segregationist senators in the past, which she called “hurtful.” “I will tell you on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats,” she said, explaining how she benefited from school busing in the 1970s, which Biden opposed at the time. Biden, his anger rising, was having none of it: “I did not praise racists. This is not true,” he said, before launching into a somewhat disjointed defense of his record on civil rights, which ended awkwardly when he noted that his time was up. The former vice president seemed a bit rattled after the exchange, although he recovered his equilibrium later in the debate.

2. Bernie Being Bernie: The most consistent performer on the stage was U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who, in his own indomitable style, stuck to his battle-tested positions on the need for a political revolution to take America back from the greedy, unscrupulous capitalist class. Asked how he, as a older white man, could represent the party’s diversity, he stuck to his economic line: “How come today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she was making 45 years ago … We need a party that is diverse, but we need a party that has guts.” Love him or hate him, this is one grumpy socialist who knows his own mind and never wavers — and does it all at the top of his lungs.

3. South Bend Shooting: Mayor Pete Buttegieg had to handle a hot potato question about a shooting of a black man by a white police officer in the city he leads, South Bend, Indiana. “It’s a mess, and we’re hurting … I have to face the fact that nothing I can say will bring (the victim) back,” he said. And while conceding that he has not been able as mayor to bring more diversity to the city’s mostly white police force, he also said that the investigation into the shooting needs to run its course — and ignored a shouted demand from U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California that he fire the officer involved.

4. Generational Dust-Up: Swalwell got in a pointed dig at Biden by quoting a speech that the septuagenarian former vice president made calling for passing the torch to a new generation of leadership — 32 years ago, when Swalwell was 6. That set off a cacophony of cross-talk that only ended when Harris managed to get off the line of the night: “Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on the table.”

5. Private Insurance Fault Line: When asked by the moderator if they supported abolishing private health insurance as part of a Medicare-for-all plan, only two candidates — Sanders and Harris — raised their hands. Sanders offered a robust defense of the idea, saying that if other major countries such as Britain and Canada can operate a health care system for their citizens, the United States should be able to do the same. The biggest pushback on eliminating private insurance came from U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who noted that Canada has just a tenth of the population of the United States, and Biden, who touted his role in passing Obamacare and said he had no intention of scrapping it. Buttigieg proposed a mixture of public and private plans that he called “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it.”

6. At Back of the Pack: Unlike in the first debate, when former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro had a breakout performance, none of the candidates lagging at the back of the pack turned in a performance that is likely to move the needle. Bennet did manage to grab a bit of air time; Swalwell tried to create moments on gun control and his calls for generational change; and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York tried to do the same with her support for legal abortion. But neither they nor former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper are likely to play much of a role in the post-debate conversation.

7. Stepping Up The Trump Attacks: The candidates in the second debate had clearly paid attention to pundits’ commentary after the first debate that President Donald Trump had not been sufficiently targeted. They stepped up the rhetoric against the president, particularly on his immigration policies. As Sanders put it, with his characteristic subtlety: “Trump is a phony. Trump is a pathological liar and a racist.”

8. Making News: Very little of what the candidates said during the debate was unexpected or made much news, with one exception — Gillibrand said that if elected, “my first act will be to engage Iran to stabilize the Middle East,” which would change 40 years of official hostility to the imams in Tehran.

9. Um, Why Were These People on the Stage? Democrats did nothing to burnish their reputation for seriousness by including new age guru Marianne Williamson and tech bro Andrew Yang as part of the debate, both of whom seemed hopelessly out of place and, frankly, in the way. It was perhaps not as silly as hosting Kim Kardashian, but it was close. Yang, to his credit, was mostly mute and later complained that his microphone had been turned off (if only); Williamson, alas, opted to interject herself with any number of peculiar observations, including that her first phone call as president would be to the president of New Zealand (which, by the way, doesn’t have a president) and that she was going to “harness love” to beat Trump. Good luck with that.

10. Winners and Losers: The winner of the night was clearly Harris, who managed to make herself look  presidential and take a bite out of Biden. The biggest loser of the evening was Biden, who, as the front-runner, needed to stay above the fray, but, by letting Harris get under his skin, may have punctured his aura of invincibility. Sanders and Buttigieg did no harm to their prospects, but Gillibrand clearly suffered in comparison to Harris, the only other woman on the stage.

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