If the second 2020 Democratic debate on Thursday proved anything, it's that latter-day Joe Biden is such an inviting target that almost any politician on Earth can eventually land a blow against him. In the more highly anticipated of back-to-back primary debate nights (the Wall Street Journal called Wednesday a "warm-up act"), there were fewer technical mishaps, and a lot more hand-raising. "Raise your hand if you think it should be a civil offense rather than a crime to cross the border without documentation." Hands go up. "Raise your hand if your government healthcare plan would cover undocumented immigrants." All hands raised.
Joe Biden, did you actually raise your hand? It often seemed like the former vice president wasn't sure.
The frontrunner appeared to be trying to keep his head down, and twice shut his mouth mid-sentence when his time ran out. But when U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, among others, started tossing some bombs his way, the guy running on being best friends with Barack Obama responded: "I was a public defender. I didn't become a prosecutor."
Thursday may have been the big game, but it was messier and less cohesive. There was excitement, and there was fatigue. Much of the buzz going in was how those with more progressive policies, like Senator Bernie Sanders, would find the time to disarm Biden with meaningful knocks on his Old Man views.
Harris probably did that most deftly, both chiding her fellow candidates early on for not playing nice ("America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we're going to put food on their table"), and also directly engaging Biden, delivering soundbite after soundbite. Among the backhanded compliments from the mouth of the only black woman on the stage: "I do not believe you are a racist… "
Of course, there were naturally a handful of lighter, more humorous moments. Biden had to smirk when he was called old, and Sanders actually backed him up—there's no reason you have to be meme-fluent to go after rich people, or something. Long-shot Marianne Williamson didn't speak until about 30 minutes in, and at the end she launched into an anti-Trump tirade about how she was going to wield "love" to win. Meanwhile, despite having some of the boldest policy ideas—including universal basic income—Andrew Yang did not have many opportunities to speak. He did, however, give a thumbs up.
Climate change somehow barely came up for the second night in a row, and student debt only got passing mention despite Resident Millennial Pete Buttigieg being up there. (He didn't sound awful when defending his handling of a recent fatal police shooting in the town of which he is mayor, South Bend, Indiana, though Congressman Eric Swalwell laid into him—and everyone else—at length.) In other words, if you were expecting the issues weighing on millions of young people to get serious airtime Thursday—well, I don't know why you would have expected that.
Below are some of the most notable highlights of the evening—funny, serious, or otherwise.
The former vice president appeared aghast when a simple fact was presented to him point-blank: The administration he was in—the one he basically wants to recreate—deported millions of people.
Sanders struggled to gain traction without sounding like a less-exciting version of himself from four years ago, but he did seem to be wondering something reasonable: Why was Michael Bennet on the stage?
Medicare remains a thing the serious Democratic contenders like. A lot.
Andrew Yang almost forgot he was there?
The most tense exchange of the evening came when Kamala Harris actually seemed to get under Joe Biden's skin over his questionable record on race in general, and busing in particular.
Buttigieg copped to his shortcomings on race and police reform in Indiana—and specifically why his police force remained disproportionately white.
But really, this Biden face about sums up the evening.
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