On Tuesday night, twelve Democrats took the stage in Columbus, Ohio. This fourth debate proved more bloody than the others, with candidates teaming up against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has eclipsed former Vice President Joe Biden as the frontrunner in the race.
So who won and who lost?
1. Elizabeth Warren.
Other Democrats clearly teamed up against Warren, and she did occasionally lose her cool.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) got Warren to claim that the middle class would not see a tax increase, despite the high costs of her political programs.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., attacked her for dodging a yes-or-no question about raising taxes on the middle class. “Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this. No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in,” he said.
2. Joe Biden.
Biden had a largely forgettable debate, except for one hilarious gaffe and his loud insistence that neither he nor his son Hunter did anything wrong in Ukraine and China.
Within the span of a few seconds, Biden appeared to state and reverse a position on capital gains taxes. “We have to start rewarding work, not just wealth. I would eliminate the capital gains tax. I would— I would raise the capital gains tax to the highest rate of 39.5 percent, I would double it,” Biden said. This was clearly a gaffe — raising the tax is clearly his position — but it still reminds Americans that the former VP is a loose cannon.
As PJ Media’s Managing Editor Paula Bolyard pointed out, CNN’s Anderson Cooper let the cat out of the bag in his question to Biden on the issue of his son. Cooper accused Trump of having “falsely” accused Hunter of corruption. Biden did not offer a strong answer, merely saying that he stood by Hunter’s statement and attacking Trump — not an inspiring performance.
Even if Joe Biden is somehow innocent in the whole thing, the fact that Hunter got on the board of Ukrainian gas firm Burisma without any experience in the industry stinks to high heaven. The billions of dollars he made in China also stink to high heaven, considering the Obama administration’s lax approach to the Middle Kingdom.
Biden may not lose much support due to this debate, but he won’t reverse his recent drop in the polls, either.
3. Kamala Harris.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) distinguished herself by repeating the demand that Twitter shut down President Donald Trump’s account for allegedly threatening the life of a witness by intimidating the unnamed whistleblower. This was such a reach that when Harris pressured Warren to agree with her position, Warren shot her down.
“I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter, I want to push him out of the White House,” Warren replied.
Harris also gave a weak answer at the end of the debate, when moderators asked candidates to name a friendship that would surprise them — a friendship like that of Ellen Degeneres and former President George W. Bush. Reaching desperately for someone on the other side of the aisle, Harris named Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), with whom she briefly worked on a criminal justice reform measure regarding bail. Even former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) had a stronger answer than she did.
4. Beto O’Rourke.
Speaking of Beto, the man who thought he could turn Texas blue did not have a good night. Candidates teamed up against Warren because she is the frontrunner. They also teamed up against O’Rourke — because he made radical statements like “Hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15.”
When discussing gun control, O’Rourke name-dropped the organizations Moms Demand Action and March for Our Lives, suggesting he was taking his policy from a group of teenagers in the case of the latter group. When O’Rourke suggested Buttigieg did not go far enough on gun control, the mayor — and military veteran — replied, “I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.” Ouch.
Many of the candidates on stage Tuesday night performed fairly well but did little to court support beyond their natural constituencies. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) was by far the best-looking person on that stage, and I often find her refreshing, but she did not stand out in the debate. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) played his usual emotional tune, but failed to really make a dent. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro had a rather forgettable debate.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was clearly working hard to make a name for herself, but her efforts seem unlikely to succeed. She will struggle to make the next debate and may need to throw in the towel in the coming months.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire who made his fortune by investing in coal but then became a climate change activist and an activist pushing Trump’s impeachment, had very little time to debate. He entered the race late, and this was his first debate, so he was working to introduce himself to an audience already familiar with his competition.
On the civility question, Steyer did not mention a friend with opposing political views, but a fellow climate change activist who happened to be a woman of a different race.
1. Elizabeth Warren.
Yes, I named Warren as a loser, as well. The fact that other candidates treated her as the frontrunner was both positive and negative for her. While Warren occasionally lost her cool, she also proved herself a capable debater, able to wear the mantle of the frontrunner and fend off many attacks. No fewer than seven candidates attacked her, and she was able to respond well in many cases.
2. Andrew Yang.
Math-obsessed businessman Andrew Yang may very well become an also-ran in the 2020 Democratic race, but his ideas shaped the discussion on Tuesday night. CNN moderators asked a question about automation and the universal basic income (UBI), Yang’s key policy to deal with automation.
In a particularly resonant moment, the businessman declared, “Most Americans don’t want to work for the federal government.” He argued that a UBI would create a “trickle-up economy” and encourage entrepreneurship.
To his credit, Yang has proposed the UBI as an alternative to federal entitlements. Sadly, he has encouraged big government solutions to other problems. Most Americans don’t want to work for the federal government, and partially for this reason, the Green New Deal is unworkable.
Gabbard and Castro praised the UBI, while Warren praised it before shifting her focus to Social Security, which she presented as an alternative. Booker claimed that increasing the minimum wage would help workers more than the UBI.
Even if Yang never comes close to the presidency, his advocacy for the UBI has made a dent in the American consciousness.
3. Bernie Sanders.
In recent weeks, Sanders had heart surgery and a heart attack. It seemed his star was fading as Warren rose. Yet on Tuesday, Sanders proved vigorous and strong, driven by his “democratic” socialism. As the debate drew to a close, news broke that the rising star of the Democratic Party — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — would endorse Sanders on Saturday.
4. Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg’s stand-out moments came in the clashes with Beto and Warren. The South Bend Mayor framed his campaign as moderate, making him the natural heir to the faltering Joe Biden.
In the fourth Democratic debate, Buttigieg seemed to emerge as the most likely fourth option, though he still trails the top three in the polls.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.