From Detroit, Michigan - The first half of the Democratic Debates in Detroit turned into a very public clash between the more liberal and more moderate wings of the Democratic Party, as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders faced repeated questions from the CNN debate moderators - and other Democratic candidates - about whether their sweeping proposals on a host of issues would damage their ability to defeat President Donald Trump.
"You might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump," said former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, whose more moderate message has struggled to make an impact in the Democratic race.
"It's bad policy, and it's certainly bad politics," said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), who also has been unable to make much of a dent in the Democratic race.
Here's a look at what was a very interesting night in the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit.
1. Sanders-Warren versus the moderates. Spurred by the CNN moderators, the ten Democrats on night number one of the Democratic debates focused a lot of energy on the differences between Sanders and Warren - versus the fears of more moderate Democrats that the liberal wing is waltzing into a McGovern, Mondale, or Dukakis type defeat in 2020 to President Trump. Warren and Sanders pushed back. "I genuinely do not understand why anyone would go to all the trouble of running for President, just to get up on this stage and talk about what's not possible," Warren said at one point. "I get a little tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas," Sanders said. But it was crystal clear that after a first debate in which Democrats embraced some expansive social plans - that there was a bit of backlash on the debate stage in Detroit on Tuesday night.
Senators Sanders & Warren had the most speaking time tonight; lesser known centrist candidates, such as Gov. Steve Bullock and fmr. Rep Delaney tried to break through. A major theme that emerged tonight--the most progressive candidates clashing w/ the more moderate ones. pic.twitter.com/Yt22jyXuL3— Natalie Brand (@NatalieABrand) July 31, 2019
2. Big debate flashpoint - Health care. Nowhere was the moderates vs. progressives divide more evident than on the issue of health care, as the candidates took a deep policy dive into the implications of a Medicare For All health care plan, in which Sanders and Warren would effectively eliminate private health insurance policies. For many Democrats, that's just a bridge too far, and it showed in this debate. Again, Warren and Sanders refused to budge. "I am not afraid," Warren said, as she defended her health care ideas. "And for Democrats to win, you can't be afraid either." But the more moderate wing rolled their eyes. "I think Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not on impossible promises," said former Congressman John Delaney, as he decried 'fairy-tale economics' from Sanders and Warren. "I'm not going to support any plan that rips away quality health care from individuals," said Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. "If our nominee is talking about taking our health care away, I think we'll lose 48 states," said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH).
3. Beto, Amy and the other five. Out of this group of ten on the debate stage Tuesday night, it's possible that five candidates - Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, O'Rourke, and Klobuchar will qualify for the next debate in September, though the final three didn't really make much of a lasting mark in the second debate. That leaves five other Democrats - Ryan, Hickenlooper, Delaney, Williamson and Bullock. Did anyone of those five - who are far back in the polls - have a big night and change the trajectory of this race? It didn't seem like it immediately, though Delaney, Bullock, and Hickenlooper did get a bit more time to vouch for their views. Whether that will push them up in the polls is unclear at this point.
4. The clock ran in favor of Warren and Sanders. With the two most progressive candidates spending much of the night defending their policy choices, it makes sense that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders spoke the most on Tuesday night. Here's a breakdown for each of the candidates. As you can see, no one came close to the under three minutes that Andrew Yang spoke for in the first debate last month.
5. The first debate for Bullock. Montana Governor Steve Bullock was the only new candidate in this set of debates, as he replaced Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who bowed out after his 'pass the torch' debate criticism of Joe Biden in Miami. Bullock joined other more moderate Democrats in raising eyebrows about the sweeping progressive proposals made mainly by Sanders and Warren. The response from the progressive side of the Democratic Party to Bullock was simple - hey, you're a nice guy, but maybe you should run for another office, and not for President of the United States.
Bullock was very impressive tonight. Cant wait to donate to his Senate campaign— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) July 31, 2019
6. As many as five Democrats from Tuesday night may not be in the next debate. Night one in Detroit may have been the final appearance for a number of candidates on the debate stage. The qualifying criteria only gets tougher for a mid-September debate in Houston, and that could mean no Marianne Williamson, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Tim Ryan or Steve Bullock - unless their poll numbers have a quick uptick after this debate. From Tuesday night's lineup, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, and O'Rourke have qualified for the next debate - with Klobuchar seemingly in reach of getting there as well.
Updated count for September qualifying polls (2%+):— The Debate Tracker (@TrackerDebate) July 30, 2019
4/4 polls: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, Booker, O’Rourke, Klobuchar
3 polls: Castro, Yang
2 polls: Steyer
1 poll: Gabbard, Hickenlooper
0 polls: All others
7. Sometimes the signs are subtle, but the message is loud and clear. A few hours before the first debate, the crowd outside had a festival feeling to it, with excited debate ticket holders standing in line along Woodward Avenue to get into the Fox Theater. That's when I noticed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) walking down the street in his sport coat and jeans. No one was stopping him for a selfie. No one was stopping him to say hello. No one seemed to notice him. When you're a candidate for President, and no one is really paying attention to you on the street, that probably says a lot about where your campaign is right now.