Seven candidates went head-to-head Friday night for the eighth Democratic presidential debate hosted by St. Anselem College in Manchester, New Hampshire and moderated by ABC News.
Center stage stood former Vice President Joe Biden, who placed a disappointing fourth place finish in Monday’s Iowa caucuses and is on track for another fourth-place finish in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
To his left stood Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and businessman Tom Steyer on the end. To Biden’s right stood Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren followed by South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Not on stage was Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who is polling higher in the state than both Yang and Steyer in Real Clear Politics’ latest aggregate, but missed both the polling threshold and the donor requirement for a spot in the primetime event.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also notably absent Friday night while surging in nationwide polls to third place with more than 10 percent support in the Real Clear aggregate. Bloomberg however, is self-funding his campaign and missed the 225,000 unique donor requirement set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Friday night’s debate came at a tumultuous time in the primary after a disastrous week for Democrats.
On Monday, Iowa Democratic caucuses descended into chaos as the voting app crashed once results were being reported. The technical failures led to a week-long delay in reporting the final vote tally while President Donald Trump swept the news cycle as Democrats remained in disarray. Tuesday morning was the only opportunity for the winners of the Iowa caucuses to score the publicity that comes with the first-place finish, with face and name plastered across every major newspaper in the country.
Instead, the news cycle turned to Trump’s State of the Union Tuesday, his exoneration in the impeachment trial Wednesday, a victory lap on Thursday, and a new jobs report Friday. The week soidified the president’s case to the country all while the mess in Iowa played out in the background raising skepticism whether Democrats will be able to competently administer the massive government programs they are proposing.
In a debate where the questions were tough and the moderators were sharp, here are the highlights from the Democrats’ last head-to-head match-up before the New Hampshire primary.
Biden Concedes New Hampshire
Biden opened the night by admitting to a poor showing in Iowa and conceded he is likely to repeat a bad night on Tuesday with a low finish.
“I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here,” Biden said.
“It’s a long race. I took a hit in Iowa,” former Vice President Joe Biden tells @GStephanopoulos when asked about Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg coming out on top in Iowa. https://t.co/xf1187lahq #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/0FTpHeFUDL
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) February 8, 2020
No One Is Worried About Nominating a Socialist, Except Klobuchar
At one point, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked the candidates on stage if anyone was worried about nominating a self-described “socialist” to take on Trump this fall.
The only two people to raise their hands were Klobuchar and Steyer, who appeared to only raise it halfway.
George Stephanopoulos: "Let me just ask, is anyone else on the stage concerned about having a democratic socialist at the top of the Democratic ticket?
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) February 8, 2020
Klobuchar emphasized the moderate voters that the label is likely to alienate in critical states such as New Hampshire. Klobuchar argued that she is best to “bring in independents” and “moderate Republicans” for a victory for Democrats in November.
Candidates Say Killing World’s Most Dangerous Terrorist Was Wrong
During a discussion on foreign policy, there was near unanimous agreement against Trump’s decision to take out Iran’s Qassam Soleimani, who was the commander of the regime’s deadly Quds Force. Buttigieg, Biden, and Sanders all said that if they were in command, they would not have ordered U.S. forces to execute the Iranian general.
“You cannot go around saying, ‘You’re a bad guy, we’re gonna assassinate you.’ And then you’re gonna have, if that happens, you’re opening the door to internationally anarchy,” Sanders said.
Pete Buttigieg says there is "no evidence" that killing terrorist Qassam Soleimani made American safer pic.twitter.com/hWIEiRvzII
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) February 8, 2020
Tom Steyer Quips Famous Line From 1992: ‘It’s The Economy Stupid!’
Steyer argued that Democrats needed to pivot their criticism to Trump to the economy as the president continues to tout the nation’s boom, especially in light of the new jobs report released Friday showing a continuation of the country’s longest economic expansion on record.
“It’s the economy, stupid!” Steyer cried out. “We’re going to have to take Mr. Trump down on the economy because if you listen to him, he’s glowing about it every single day, and he’s going to beat us unless we can take him down on the economy, stupid!”
Tom Steyer: “We’re going to have to take Mr. Trump down on the economy because if you listen to him, he’s crowing about it every single day and he’s going to beat us unless we can take him down on the economy, stupid.” https://t.co/Rhy9aOaDTU #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/FuSJPRyqrY
— ABC News (@ABC) February 8, 2020
Steyer then turned his criticism to Buttigieg, saying the mid-town mayor was not equipped with adequate experience to take on Trump successfully.
“You have to have experience to take him down… That’s why I’m worried about Mayor Pete,” Steyer charged. “You need to be able to go toe-to-toe with this guy and take him down on the debate stage or we’re going to lose.”
Is Bernie Sanders Likeable?
In a moment reminiscent of the exchange between then-Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on Clinton’s likeability in 2008, ABC’s Linsey Davis asked Klobuchar about Sanders’ charisma.
“The Democratic Party’s last presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has criticized Senator Bernie Sanders’ record in the Senate, saying nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done,” said Davis. “Senator Klobuchar, you serve with Senator Sanders in the Senate — is he going to be able to get the support?”
The question prompted laughter from the auditorium and a hug to Sanders from Biden on stage.
“I like Bernie just fine,” Klobuchar said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar on if Sen. Sanders would be able to get the support he needs from Republicans: "I like Bernie just fine. We actually have worked together on a number of things including pharmaceuticals." https://t.co/s3AVDqyECn #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/77jimisROe
— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) February 8, 2020
Yang: Donald Trump Is Not The Cause of All Our Problems
Yang spoke about the need for the Democratic Party to abandon the idea that Trump is the root cause of the nation’s problems and to focus on the issues that led voters to elect Trump in 2016.
“Donald Trump is not the cause of all of our problems, and we’re making a mistake when we act like he is,” Yang said. “He is a symptom of a disease that has been building up in our communities for years and decades.”
Yang continued to deride the major two parties for playing the “you lose, I lose” game for too long as the American people have suffered the loss.
— The Daily Wire (@realDailyWire) February 8, 2020
Democrats Offer Standing Ovation For Alexander Vindman
In perhaps Biden’s strongest moment for Democratic voters of the night, the former vice president chastised the administration’s decision to relieve Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his post in the White House months after the intelligence official testified against the president in the House impeachment proceedings. At the same time, Biden took the opportunity to take a swipe at Trump’s awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to legendary conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
“By the way, Colonel Vindman got thrown out of the White House today,” Biden said. “He should have been pinning a medal on Vindman, and not on Rush Limbaugh.”
Biden then encouraged the audience to stand on their feet to applaud Vindman’s testimony in the House.
“I think we should all stand and get Colonel Vindman a show of how much we supported him. Stand up and clap for Vindman!” Biden instructed.
Biden asks the audience to give Alexander Vindman, who was escorted out of the White House today, a standing ovation: "[Trump] should be pinning a medal on Vindman and not on Rush Limbaugh." pic.twitter.com/lMsHyaT8IQ
— Axios (@axios) February 8, 2020
Vindman was a star witness in Democrats’ partisan impeachment hearings last fall. He testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November. While Democrats latched onto Vindman’s unsubstantiated testimony as proof of Trump’s wrongdoing, Vindman destroyed his own credibility before Congress by contradicting himself repeatedly. Vindman also essentially admitted to leaking classified information to the whistleblower at the center of the president’s impeachment.
Candidates: Everything In America Is Racist
In the wokest primary of American history, the candidates once again derided America as a racist nation pinning the odds against minorities in every aspect of every level.
“We have a racist society from top to bottom, impacting health care, housing, criminal justice, education — you name it. And clearly this is an issue that must be dealt with,” Sanders said.
The Vermont senator went on to argue to the end of the war on drugs and eliminate private prisons. Steyer then chimed in, asserting the financier’s successful history of supporting certain criminal justice measures in California and backing for slavery reparations.
Sen. Sanders: "We have a racist society from top to bottom impacting health care, housing, criminal justice, education — you name it. And clearly this is an issue that must be dealt with." https://t.co/0GxKJz7e8Y #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/i335Cjyola
— ABC News (@ABC) February 8, 2020