The big takeaway: the CNN/New York Times democratic debates

Courtney Green, News Editor

The CNN/New York Times debate in Westerville, Ohio featured 12 candidates. The next debate, slated for November, will likely be missing some of those who stood on the stage last night.

Spinnaker’s got you covered on the big takeaways you need to know to get up to speed on what they stood for on stage.

Elizabeth Warren and “Medicare for All”

Recently, Senator Warren has climbed the polls enough to be considered a front-runner rival beside former Vice President Joe Biden. Ahead of the debate, commentators dropped warnings that she would be the candidate to watch for last night — advice that the other candidates took up readily. 

Warren’s support of a “Medicare for All” plan — a public health-care plan provided by the government — drew the fire of many candidates on the stage, including Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. Amy Klobuchar, the most critical of the candidates, accused Warren of not being “honest” about raising taxes on Americans to pay for her plan and called it a “pipedream.” 

Warren defended herself by saying taxes would only be raised for the wealthy — millionaires and billionaires — and businesses. She didn’t directly answer if taxes would be raised on the middle-class.

Kamala Harris and Booker attempted staying out of the fray on the “Medicare for All” debate, doing so by instead calling attention to women’s health issues and the Republican effort to make access to safe abortions more difficult.

Joe Biden

Though Biden was center-stage, he wasn’t front-and-center in the debate like he’s been before. When pressed about his son, Hunter Biden, and why Biden denounced Trump’s children’s involvement in foreign affairs, Biden answered vaguely by saying his son’s statement spoke for itself. The statement announced Hunter Biden would be stepping down from his board position at a Chinese gas company in Ukraine. Going forward, Biden promised if he is elected, no family members will be involved in foreign business.

Biden’s answer regarding his and his son’s conflict of interest wasn’t criticized by other candidates in the way one would expect. In fact, Cory Booker even defended Biden against the asking of the question, warning the other candidates against elevating “President Donald Trump’s lies.” That seemed to end the questions and keep other candidates at bay.

Perhaps the clearest distinction Biden made between himself and the other candidates was his stance on Warren and Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, which he denounced as vague. Instead, he put forward the “Biden Plan,” which is built on ObamaCare — separating him from  the “Socialist” candidates President Trump denounces.

Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, and the U.S. leaving Syria

The two veterans on stage had differing opinions regarding the U.S., Syria, Turkey, and the Kurds. Gabbard stated that the blame for Kurdish slaughter falls on the U.S. for regime changes. Buttigieg disagreed and said that the issue came down to the President’s decision to withdraw, not U.S. involvement. On Turkey, Sanders said they are not a U.S. ally despite being a NATO ally. Biden defended the Obama administration’s Syria policy from Gabbard’s characterization of it as a series of regime changes.


The night certainly had some memorable zingers, and several candidates took the opportunity to evade uncomfortable questions.

Elizabeth Warren received the most screen-time, in large part due to the attacks the other candidates launched on her. 

Joe Biden used his experience as a former vice president to argue for policies he would enact that appear similar to Obama administration policies. 

Bernie Sanders quelled worries about his health after his recent heart attack. 

Pete Buttigieg called the most attention to himself last night out of all of the four democratic debates to have taken place. 

Amy Klobuchar called out Warren for her vagueness on the raising of taxes. 

Beto O’Rourke engaged in a gun buy-back debate with Buttigieg where the veteran suggested O’Rourke wouldn’t know where to begin with implementing his idea.

All of the candidates supported the impeachment inquiry. Similarly, the President’s withdrawal from Syria was almost universally condemned.

No matter how you feel about last night’s debate, it is important to remember that debates don’t determine who the next president will be; debates are auditions for donors and voters to see who most closely aligns with their values. 


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