7 Debate Moments That Won't Make You Give Up Entirely

The first 2020 Democratic presidential debate was occasionally substantial. It was also very dark and strange.

by Alex Norcia
Jun 27 2019, 3:30am

Jayme Gershen/Bloomberg via Getty Images 

"All foam and no beer." That's what Amy Klobuchar, the US senator from Minnesota perhaps best known until now outside her home state for reportedly eating a salad with a comb and then making a staffer clean it, said about Donald Trump's healthcare promises at the first 2020 debate Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, it was also a pretty apt characterization of what happened on stage among some of the thirstiest politicians in the world.

It wasn't exactly a secret, going in, that in the very crowded debates—divided over two nights on Wednesday and Thursday—the 20 candidates were poised for a desperate, even absurd hunt for viral moments. Everyone not named Joe Biden had to stand out. They needed to connect. If nothing else, they had that opportunity in a long, strange forum that was less about actually debating policy ideas than justifying their sometimes-bizarre decisions to spend large amounts of time away from their loved ones.

There were, it should be noted, legitimately substantial moments for a primary electorate hungry for transformational change. Julián Castro, the former HUD secretary who may have been the breakout star this time around, butted heads with fellow Texan Beto O'Rourke over how to forcefully reverse Trump's immigration policies. (According to Google Trends, searches for Castro spiked 2,400 percent by the midway point of the debate.) Elizabeth Warren fully embraced "Medicare for All," and the dissolution of the private insurance system that comes with it. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio argued passionately that nativist sentiment stoked by Trump—and targeted, notoriously, at immigrant children—was misplaced, and that the real villains in American life are rich people.

But it also got weird.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader who has referred to himself as the "grim reaper" of Democratic legislation, came up before climate change. Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, talked repeatedly about daring to live in New Jersey. The original slew of moderators tapped out after the first hour, only to be replaced by Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd. The problem: No one switched over the mics. That gave Donald Trump, presumably watching while eating a Big Mac in bed, the chance to tweet—and then delete the typo-ridden tweet, and tweet again—about fake news.

Here's a sampling of moments that stood out after the two-hour stretch—whether because they represented a nuanced, substantial plan from a candidate, or simply because they were amusing.

Tim Ryan, a populist congressman from Ohio who tried and failed to beat out Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, constantly had the look of a child about to enter a haunted house.

Elizabeth Warren uttered the most declarative statement of the night, affirming that yes, in fact, she was ready to deal with the stray dog that is the United States Senate.

Klobuchar noted, in response to climate-change hawk and Washington Governor Jay Inslee mentioning all he had done for women, that there were people literally on the stage who were, in fact, women.

Castro addressed the migrant crisis, as everyone else—seemingly with sincere patience—listened. This was a theme.

Like the rest of us, de Blasio appeared to be very confused about why he was on this Earth.

When they weren't speaking Spanish, Castro and O'Rourke went at it over the migrant crisis.

Once again, Klobuchar offered up the most definitive summation of the debate when, conceding that nothing happened on gun reform despite tragedy after tragedy, she declared, "We all failed." Damn.

Correction 06/27/2019: A previous version of this article featured the wrong first name—John—for the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee.

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Elizabeth Warren
democratic debate
Julian Castro
Beto O'Rourke