If you were hearty enough to make it through the three hour CNN/New York Times Democratic debate, you saw 12 would-be presidents circle their wagons, take aim at the current commander in chief and, in the process, lob stones at one another.
From health care to gun regulations, the Democrats lamented the status quo, but also questioned whether their fellow party members had the right answer.
When asked whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren plans on raising taxes on the middle class to pay for her Medicare for All plan, she replied, “I have made clear what my principles are here, and that is costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations, and for hard-working, middle-class families costs will go down.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who had previously questioned Warren’s plans to pay for her Medicare plan, took aim on Tuesday night.
“Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this,” Buttigieg said. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.”
“So, let’s be clear,” Warren responded. “Whenever someone hears the term ‘Medicare for all who want it,’ understand what that really means. It’s ‘Medicare for all who can afford it.’ And that’s the problem we’ve got.”
Warren’s opponents took aim at her policy plans, a result of her newly-minted status as front-runner. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also partook in the pile-on.
“At least Bernie’s being honest here and saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up,” she said. “And I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that, and I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we’re going to send the invoice.”
“The plan is going to cost at least $30 trillion over 10 years,” said Biden, in response to a question about the practicality of Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ health care plans. “That is more on a yearly basis than the entire federal budget.
“I will tell you what the issue is here,” Sanders retorted. “The issue is whether the Democratic Party has the guts to stand up to the health care industry, which made $100 billion in profit … And if we don’t have the guts to do that, if all we can do is take their money, we should be ashamed of ourselves.”
It was Sen. Cory Booker – the “love” candidate – who repeatedly challenged his colleagues to raise the level of their rhetoric or face a repeat of what happened in 2016.
“You know, we’ve got one shot to make Donald Trump a one-term president. And how we talk about each other in this debate actually really matters,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of working with or being friends with everybody on this stage, and tearing each other down because we have a different plan to me is unacceptable. I have seen this script before. It didn’t work in 2016, and it will be a disaster for us in 2020.”
Moderators, looking to keep the cross-talk going, delivered loaded questions.
“Vice President Biden, just on either side of you, Sen. Warren is calling for big structural change. Sanders is calling for a political revolution. Will their visions attract the kind of voters that the Democrats need to beat Donald Trump?” asked moderator Anderson Cooper.
And with a 12-person stage, the best way to be heard, apparently, was to be contrary.
Booker, who has already qualified for the November debate, said a smaller pool of candidates will make a difference.
“Look, the next debate is going to have, probably it looks like right now, only eight people have qualified. I’m glad to be one of those folks. Having four less people — yeah of course, it’s going to give more of an opportunity for people to hear my ideas and my heart and my spirit. But, it is what it is, all 12 of us have the same kind of stage.”
Booker is on to South Carolina and New Hampshire next, hoping to keep pace with the front runners. Whether he gets a bump in the polls from this debate is almost irrelevant compared to the campaign’s larger issue – which remains raising money.