Nov 21, 2019

What happened in the Dem debates?

What happened in the Dem debates?

It wasn't boring, but it wasn't a battle royale, either.

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Today’s read: 9 minutes.

We’ve had a lot of impeachment coverage this week, and testimony continues today. But I want to step out of that to give a recap of the big story from last night, which was the Democratic debate on MSNBC.

A question for you.

Tangle hits your inbox Monday through Thursday, which means there won’t be a newsletter tomorrow. However, some folks have reached out to me asking for a zoom-out overview of impeachment; something that gives a basic rundown of what’s going on, where we are, and what’s next. I’m curious how much interest there would be in that, so I’d love it if you took this one question, 10-second poll and let me know what you want to read. If there’s a lot of interest, I will put out a special Tangle edition tomorrow. You can take the poll by clicking the button below:

Take the poll

The debate.

Last night, after hours and hours of impeachment hearings came to a close, I got 45 minutes to eat dinner with my fiance and then had to turn on the television for the fifth Democratic debate of the presidential primary. Today’s Tangle will be dedicated to recapping that debate. Some overarching themes:

  • Aside from some fiery exchanges between Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Kamala Harris, who really don’t like each other, attacks were rare last night.
  • The candidates appeared mostly unified against Trump and what he’s ushering into American politics.
  • The “buzz” from the right (and some on the left) on social media was that the debate was a boring display of the same old talking points.
  • In my opinion, the debate was one of the most substantive yet — uninterrupted by bickering and people talking over each other.

First words.

What candidates say first is usually a good indication of the message they’re trying to get out. Last night, several candidates were first asked what they would do regarding Trump and impeachment. The first 20 minutes were dominated by the top contenders in the race. Andrew Yang didn’t say his first word until 9:31pm, 31 minutes into the debate. Here’s a brief summary of the first things we heard from each candidate, in the order they spoke.

Elizabeth Warren [Current U.S. Senator from Massachusetts]:  Warren responded to the question about impeachment by saying Trump clearly obstructed justice in the 448 page Mueller report. Because he got away with it, Warren said, he felt comfortable breaking the law again. This case illustrates how Trump is corrupt but also how political corruption works, with ambassadors like Gordon Sondland “buying” their position with a $1 million donation.

Amy Klobuchar [Current U.S. Senator from Minnesota]: Klobuchar said that she’s made it very clear Trump’s conduct is impeachable and she has called for an impeachment hearing. However, she hasn’t yet committed to what she’d do or how she’d vote in the Senate. Instead, she says we need to look at all of the evidence. Right now that evidence suggests Trump puts all of his own interests ahead of our country’s interests.

Bernie Sanders [Current U.S. Senator from Vermont]: Sanders said we have a president who is not only a pathological liar, he is likely the most corrupt president in American history. He then immediately pivoted into his stump speech, saying “but we cannot simply be consumed by Trump or we’re going to lose the election.” He told the audience about the 87 million people who are under or uninsured, the 500,000 people sleeping on the street, etc. He added that Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time — they can deal with Trump’s corruption and stand up for working families simultaneously.

Pete Buttigieg [Current Mayor of South Bend, Indiana]: Buttigieg spoke about impeachment through a constitutional lens, saying it was beyond politics. He added that the president’s impeachable conduct is clear and POTUS has confessed to it on television. Even more, though, he said news from last week that would be an impeachable offense for anyone else was almost entirely overlooked: the president had to confess in writing, in court, to diverting charitable contributions that were supposed to go to veterans and instead went to his family. Buttigieg reiterated that he was running to be president for that day the sun comes up after Trump.

Joe Biden [Former Vice President under Barack Obama]: Biden was asked how he could work with Republicans who are currently trying to get his son to testify before the House. He responded by talking about his electability, saying the next president is going to have to do two things: defeat Trump and be able to go into states like Georgia, North Carolina, etc. and help pick up Senate seats. He said he’s most likely to win the presidency in the first place and is also most likely to increase the number of Democrats in the House and Senate. From the impeachment hearings, he said learned something: “Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee and Putin doesn’t want me to be president.”

Kamala Harris [Current U.S. Senator from California]: "We have a criminal living in the White House," she said. Harris insisted that we have to bring justice back to all Americans — not just Trump — and used the moment to discuss the inconsistencies in how our justice system treats crime and criminals.

Cory Booker [Current U.S. Senator from New Jersey]: By the time Booker got to speak, the conversation had moved onto a question about taxes. Booker said we have to bring in more revenue, emphasizing the people who cheat the tax system. He also said we need to raise the estate tax and we need to tax capital gains as ordinary income. But then he turned to Democrats needing to talk about how to grow wealth, how to grow businesses, etc. He emphasized building a party that encouraged economic success and reached out to people lacking wealth to help them build it.

Tulsi Gabbard [Current U.S. Representative from Hawaii]: Tulsi used her opening time to trash the Democratic party, saying it was not by and for the people but instead driven by the military-industrial complex. She bashed the corporate interests who have taken over the party and coined a new phrase: the Bush-Clinton-Trump foreign policy doctrine that spends trillions overthrowing leaders and making us less safe. She said she was running to rebuild the party, take it out of the corporate hands and put it back into the hands of the people struggling all across the country.

Tom Steyer [Wealthy billionaire and political organizer]: Steyer flexed his record as an organizer, saying he’s spent $300 million in politics to advance goals that benefit people across the country. He said he’s put together coalitions that fight corporate power, pushing power down from the top to the people, adding that he’s taken on oil companies, tobacco companies, utilities and Trump companies. He said he built one of the largest grassroots organizations in the U.S. — NextGen America, that’s helping organize the largest youth vote movement in U.S. history.

Andrew Yang [Entrepreneur living in New York City]: Yang was brought in with a question about what qualified him to respond to a terrorist attack. The first thing Yang did was stand up for Tom Steyer, who had just been labeled as a “special interest” by moderators in a previous question, and said that Steyer has spent a lot of money fighting climate change. Yang then went into his stump speech: that artificial intelligence is the biggest threat we have alongside climate change. He said the next Commander in Chief needs to be focused on the true threats of tomorrow.

The moments.

Every debate has a few moments that stick out in people’s memories. Here were the memorable moments from last night.
  • Cory Booker and Joe Biden had a spicy exchange over marijuana legalization.  "This week I hear him literally say that I don’t think we should legalize marijuana,” Booker said of Biden. “I thought you might have been high when you said it...marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people. The war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people."
  • Joe Biden, while touting his black support, said he has the endorsement of the only black woman ever elected to the Senate. Meanwhile, Kamala Harris, a black woman in the Senate running for president, was standing right next to him. It was a cringey exchange and Biden tried to claim he said the “first” black woman elected to the Senate. Harris reacted with laughter and by throwing her hands up.
  • Amy Klobuchar expanded on her criticisms of Buttigieg, saying she believed he was qualified but no woman would able to run with his experience. “Women are held to a higher standard, otherwise we could play a game called name your favorite woman president,” she said. Then she dropped this line: “If you think a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.”
  • Asked about bringing home the troops, Sanders harshly criticized Joe Biden as he was standing next to him. Sanders said he’d be open to negotiating with the Taliban to get out of Afghanistan, noting there was a big difference between him and Biden: Sanders didn’t vote for the Iraq war. He said it’s time we stop spending trillions of dollars on wars that cause mass migration, but “unlike Trump, I will not bring the troops home through a tweet at 3am… I will do it with the international community.”

Kamala Harris leveled the harshest words against Tulsi Gabbard yet, saying she spent four years cozying up to Steve Bannon and going on Fox News to criticize Obama. Gabbard and Harris have emerged as perhaps the two most combative candidates towards each other, and last night was no different.

  • Asked what he’d say on his first call with Vladimir Putin if he became president, Andrew Yang quipped that he’d “say sorry for beating your guy.” Then he took a more serious approach, saying that the days of Russia meddling in our election would be over. He said he’d also recommit to our NATO allies, invoking Trump’s former Secretary of Defense James Mattis who says “the more you invest in diplomats and diplomacy the less you spend on ammunition.”
  • For the first time since before the 2016 election, a debate moderator asked a question about voting rights. For many on the left, who feel that voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering and the suppression of voting rights is a top issue, this was a watershed moment. Many Democrats believe making it easier to vote — and getting more people to the polls — is the key to success. There were also much-desired questions about paid family leave and white supremacist violence.

Dumb stuff.

Every debate, there’s also a whole lot of inconsequential moments that for whatever reason take up a bunch of oxygen and are talked about a lot. Some because they’re funny, others because they’re bizarre.
  • Amy Klobuchar and Elizbeth Warren seemed very cold. Both appeared to be shaking on stage last night, Klobuchar most notably, and everyone seemed to notice. Former political strategist Liza Mair speculated that it was because Warren and Klobuchar were under an air conditioning vent on the stage, and producers always make it freezing cold for the male candidates.
  • Bernie Sanders nearly poked Joe Biden in the face while doing his patented pointing and grumbling.

A fun behind the scenes moment from the debate where Andrew Yang and Kamala were jumping around during commercial.


Like opening statements, closing statements are often a good look into what a candidate is all about. Here is a brief recap of what the candidate’s said in their closing arguments.

Cory Booker thanked Rep. John Lewis, who was in the crowd, for helping propel his career. He says we’re all in a debt to people like Lewis and that his presidency would honor them by causing “good trouble.” He also said he needs money to stay in the race and sent people to his website.

Tom Steyer emphasized that everyone here is more patriotic and more competent than the criminal in the White House. He said he knows the government is broken and has been purchased by corporations, and he’s spent a decade putting together coalitions of Americans to beat those corporations.

Tulsi Gabbard took a conciliatory tone, saying we needed to defeat the divisiveness of Trump. She said her hope was to usher in racial harmony, justice and equality. “Let’s make Dr. King’s dream our reality,” she said.

Andrew Yang painted a dark picture, telling the audience “our kids are not alright.” He said they are not alright because we are leaving them a future that is far darker than what we have gone through. He emphasized that Trump is not the cause of our issues but a symptom, and we need to cure the disease. “My first move was not to run for President of the United States because I’m not insane,” he said to laughs. But Yang said he went to D.C. and told our leaders about the threat of technology but it was clear they had no solutions and didn’t want to do anything about it. “I’m running for president because I’m a parent and a patriot.”

Amy Klobuchar invoked Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified in the impeachment hearings earlier that day. Vindman spoke to his immigrant father and said, “in this country, you can tell the truth, and it’s going to be fine.” She said this election is an economic check on Trump to bring down the cost of college and health care, but this is also a patriotic check, a values check, and a decency check. She implored the stage to create a coalition with independents, moderate Republicans and anyone who can’t tolerate this guy [Trump] anymore.

Kamala Harris said we are in a fight and we need someone who can go toe to toe with Donald Trump. She told everyone that she took on Brett Kavanaugh, Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions, and she can take on Trump. She believes this election is about justice and the injustices so many people face, and she believes we will unlock potential by fixing those injustices.

Pete Buttigieg invoked Maynard Jackson, the former Atlanta mayor (the debate was in Atlanta) who helped create the black middle class in Atlanta by spending tax dollars on programs that created opportunity. He said we needed to expand opportunity and sense of belonging for those who have been excluded, and that he’s running to prepare for the day the sun comes up after Trump has left office.

Bernie Sanders spoke about his own past, his family’s immigration story, and said he will stand with the 11 million undocumented immigrants. He promised to lead an admin that will look like America and said he has been fighting all forms of discrimination his entire life. He also touted the fact he’s received more campaign contributions than any candidate in American history at this point in an election: over four million contributions averaging 18 dollars apiece.

Elizabeth Warren recapped what they talked about: climate change, defense spending, private health insurance, and said they should have talked about gun violence. She noted that the candidates had great ideas but nothing ever gets done. Why? Corruption. “We have a government that works better for the big drug companies than the people trying to fill a prescription,” she said. Then she promised to introduce the biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate, which will end lobbying and the revolving door between D.C. and major corporations.

Joe Biden tried to piggyback Warren’s closer by saying “I assume when we’re talking about corruption, we’re not talking about President Obama.” He then spoke optimistically about how the American people have an enormous opportunity. He said he’s never been more optimistic, and he’s tired of people walking around all “woe is me.” He asked the crowd, “What are we going to do?” and said there has never been something America can’t set its mind to and accomplish. Then he yelled that it’s time to get up and take this country back again.


  • 0. The number of refugees resettled in America last month, a first since refugee records started being kept.
  • 49%. Joe Biden’s black support in the latest NBC/WSJ poll, best among all Democrats.
  • 16%. Bernie Sanders’ black support in that same poll, second-best among Democrats.
  • $1.6 billion. The estimated net worth of Tom Steyer, the highest of any candidate on stage last night.
  • $12 million. The estimated net worth of Elizabeth Warren, the second-highest of any candidate on stage last night.
  • $9 million. The estimated amount of money the Democratic National Committee raised last month.
  • $25.3 million. The estimated amount of money the Republican National Committee raised last month.
  • Speaking time from the debate, as tracked by The New York Times:

Have a nice day.

Today, TIME Magazine published its 100 Best Inventions of the year list. I’m proud to say that I contributed to the list, reporting and writing blurbs on a few of those 100 inventions. It’s my first time ever published in TIME Magazine, and the list they put together is an awesome look at all the incredible things being made by people to solve big and small problems. You can read the list here.

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