Democratic Primary Debate Analysis (July 30)

Last night’s debate presented two competing visions for the Democratic Party––one is a pragmatic center-left vision focused on beating Donald Trump. The other is a big-ideas progressive left vision focused on changing the country.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren championed the big-ideas vision, while most of the other candidates advocated, at least in part, the pragmatic vision. John Delaney carried the brunt of the argument for the pragmatists, along with John Hickenlooper, Tim Ryan and Steve Bullock. Each had good moments and made serious arguments. Pete Buttigieg positioned himself as the bridge between the two visions and generally refrained from taking sides. As usual, he hits the right tone. Beto O’Rourke, while often speaking from the middle ground, seemed out of the game. Marianne Williamson spoke a different language than the politicians on stage, which may appeal to some voters. She had some good moments.

In terms of political impact:

  • Elizabeth Warren showed that she can withstand aggressive ideological attacks and give as good as she gets. Once again, she had a clear message, and fought for it with intellectual vigor and passion. She also threw out a few memorable zingers.
  • Bernie Sanders helped himself by doing better last night than he did with his lackluster performance in the first debate. He showed he still has steam and can effectively parry incoming attacks.
  • Because of the nature of their visions, Warren and Sanders generated the strongest message energy. Despite that, some of their left-wing issue positions––especially eliminating private health insurance––could ultimately do them and the entire party serious damage, especially in the general election.
  • One wonders when Warren and Sanders will go after one another.
  • John Delaney, for what it’s worth, displayed courage in distinguishing himself from the leftward zeitgeist of current Democratic politics. But, with Joe Biden dominating the centrist Democratic vote, it remains unlikely there is much room for Delaney or any of the other pragmatists to get very far.
Ron Faucheux

Dr. Faucheux is a nationally respected public opinion analyst with a unique background in public policy and legislative research, public communications and message strategies. He combines professional competence with pragmatic problem solving skills.