Las Vegas Democratic Debate: A Party Deeply Divided

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Six Democratic candidates vie for the moderators' attention as they participate in the presidential primary debate in Las Vegas

By Robert Mullins, Reporter

In this day and age, it is an indubitable truth that political discourse has been glamorized. Campaigns devise catchy slogans to grab voters’ attention, candidates make wild claims about one another, and the truth very often gets buried under a cloak of subterfuge and insinuations. Candidates sometimes find it difficult to keep up in this highly charged atmosphere, where one must constantly be ready for the next attack from a colleague who considers them a threat. This kind of atmosphere is exemplified and displayed to the nation most blatantly on the presidential primary debate stage. Six leading candidates assembled on a stage, and rather than bolstering the case for their suitability to take on Donald Trump, they each took turns tearing each other down. The purpose of the primary debates is for candidates to more clearly outline their policy proposals so that voters might more clearly discern which candidate would best represent them and their party on the presidential ticket come November. This debate, however seemed to serve a dual purpose of exposing a Democratic field of candidates rife with disparities in their vision of our country’s future.

Fielding questions about his perceived lack of experience and concerns over his electibility, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg denounced two of his primary opponents, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We’ve got to wake up as a party,” Buttigieg said, before laying out his hypothetical future of the 2020 campaign. He predicts a narrowing down of the field the day after Super Tuesday, leaving only Mr. Sanders and Mr. Bloomberg on the stage. He then proceeded to explain the potential detriment this could pose to winning the general election, stating “Most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks money ought to be the root of all power.” He then made a bold proposal: “Let’s put forward somebody who’s actually a Democrat,” a statement that received mixed reactions from the audience.

While Buttigieg’s proposal seems simple, it is easier said than done, especially within such a diverse field of candidates. Surely, it is going to be difficult for voters to put forward an actual Democrat if no one knows what an actual Democrat stands for. Meanwhile, as desparation grows, so will the aggression of the candidates’ attacks on one another. Buttigieg finds himself fighting a war on two fronts, between two very different candidates. Most of his night was spent characterizing the current frontrunner Bernie Sanders as a foolhardy idealogue whose rigid and uncompromising nature will make him unappealing to noncommitted voters. In addition, Buttigieg repeatedly traded barbs with Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, an opponent he is looking to push out of the centrist lane of the race. He specifically honed in on Klobuchar’s inability to name the Mexican president when asked by a reporter for Telemundo. When pressed, Klobuchar admitted it was a mistake. But Buttigieg was not satisfied, telling her “You’re staking your candidacy on your Washington experience. You’re on the committee that oversees border security. You’re on the committee that does trade. You’re literally part of the committee that’s overseeing these things. And you were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south?”

Klobuchar appeared slightly flustered by these attacks, and in response aggressively hammered home Buttigieg’s lack of experience as a national candidate as well as a member of Congress. She touted her electoral success, calling herself a “proven winner” who could take on Donald Trump and emerge victorious. Klobuchar contrasted this record with Buttigieg’s, whose 2010 bid for Indiana state treasurer culminated in him losing to Republican Richard Mourdock by nearly 25 percentage points. Buttigieg’s retort was that “If winning a race for Senate in Minnesota translated directly into becoming president, I would have grown up under the presidency of Walter Mondale.” Mondale was the Democratic candidate for president in 1984, losing to Ronald Reagan in an electoral landslide. Buttigieg further continued to assail Klobuchar’s record on immigration, pointing out numerous Senate votes where Klobuchar seemingly broke party ranks, such as the votes for the head of Customs and Border Protection, as well as Trump judges, and voting to make English the national language. Klobuchar, now visibly agitated, remarked “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” before explaining the context behind those votes. She first informed him that she had in fact voted against 2/3 of the Trump judges, and advised him to get his numbers right. Klobuchar also clarified that the customs officer in question, Mark A. Morgan, was supported by half the Senate Democratic Caucus and was recommended by the Obama administration to fill that position.

From Buttigieg’s castigation of her record, Senator Klobuchar found an unlikely ally in Elizabeth Warren. After the exchange about Mexico’s president, Senator Warren interjected to say, “Missing a name all by itself does not indicate that you do not understand what’s going on, and I just think this is unfair.” Warren dominated the debate stage, delivering striking answers and compelling challenges to her fellow candidates on stage. Warren took aim at Senate Colleague Bernie Sanders, as well as billionaire Mike Bloomberg. She harshly criticized Bloomberg’s reputation for treating female employees poorly, as well as his stratagem of using his fortune to buy his way through the primaries, claiming that the debate showed a glimpse of the real Mike Bloomberg, and not the one he has spent millions in ad revenue to create. As this facade begins to fade, voters will most likely be convinced by attacks that paint him as opportunistic and out-of-touch. As entertaining as it was to watch the candidates pile on to Bloomberg, it was a tactic that was not lacking in drawbacks. Among them, the most significant is that Bernie Sanders went into the debate as a frontrunner. With most Democrats’ attacks focused on Bloomberg, he was able to emerge from this debate relatively unscathed.

Perhaps the only candidate who fared worse than Bloomberg in Wednesday’s debate was Joe Biden, whose campaign is practically on life support. He came in fifth in the New Hampshire primary on February 11, a sure sign that his bedrock support among African American voters is beginning to crumble, especially in light of Barack Obama’s recent endorsement of Mr. Bloomberg. Biden’s lackluster aptitude for debate was clearly evident Wednesday, where he was overshadowed by most other candidates on stage. He is simply not emerging as the unified centrist he was angling himself to be early on. This is crucial, as this is exactly the kind of figure  that the Democratic Party needs to embrace in order to achieve victory in November. At this point, that figure still has yet to emerge.