Debate Night Post Mortem: Round Two



The past two evenings have been SPICY. We know that during both Presidential primaries, and general elections, debates are known for their verbal jousting, one-line zingers, and in-depth pundit analysis of body language...and the two Democratic debates were no exception. 

However, lucky for us we did see some real debate regarding the policy positions of the candidates. The Democratic Party is intent on beating Trump, but it's contenders are also providing voters with a choice - some candidates are offering ‘pragmatic’ changes within the ‘system’, others are advocating a massive structural overhaul of the country’s healthcare industry, criminal justice system, immigration policies, and economic model, which they argue are needed to fix a ‘rigged and corrupt system’. 

So, we thought we’d provide some clarity following the 4-hour long marathon of debates and give you a quick overview of the key issues discussed and the positions taken by the main candidates. We’re good like that.


P.S. We’ve split up the two nights, so continue to scroll down for our handy breakdown of night 2.

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Night One

Fast Facts:

  • Most Googled Candidate: Marianne Williamson, followed by Sanders then Warren. Meanwhile, searches for Delaney were boosted by 3,400%, despite the candidate having spoken for the least amount of time.

  • Most speaking time: Warren at 18:33 and then Sanders at 17:45

  • Notable: Bullock made his first appearance on the debate stage, having replaced Swalwell who dropped out earlier this month.



  • The first question of the night was whether Bernie Sanders' ‘Medicare for All’ plan (which would eliminate people being allowed to have private insurance) would be "political suicide". It sparked a heated discussion amongst the candidates who, like the rest of the Democratic party, disagree on how to expand healthcare. While the more ‘progressive’ candidates support enacting Medicare-for-all, more moderate candidates (Delaney and Ryan) support expanding the Obama-era policy, the Affordable Care Act. Healthcare was the most discussed issue of the evening.


  • The primary line of division around healthcare proposals concerns private insurance: while some Democrats want to eliminate private health insuranceentirely and provide everyone with government-run coverage, others want to keep private insurance as an option, but allow all Americans to buy into government insurance.

  • There are half a dozen or so plans in Congress for expanding Medicare, with some bills proposing significant tax increases to fund healthcare expansion, and others suggesting that those who sign up to government insurance shoulder the cost.


  • The plan involves overhauling the current healthcare system entirely, abolishing the private insurance market and getting rid of copays and deductibles, and creating a single-payer system that would move everyone to a government insurance plan. Sanders and Warren both support this version of Medicare expansion, paid for through tax increases, although Sanders has said Americans will see lower out-of-pocket costs. Notably, he was the only candidate to admit that his plan would raise taxes on the middle class.


  • Sanders “You’re wrong. 500,000 Americans every year go bankrupt because of medical bills and 30,000 people are dying while the healthcare industry makes tens of billions of dollars of profit. Canada does this well, so can we. Health care is a human right, not a privilege."


  • John Delaney dug into Warren and Sanders’ healthcare plan, accusing them of “fairy-tale economics” that would jeopardize the success of the party in the election: “Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises.”


  • According to a recent Hill-HarrisX survey, “only one in 10 registered voters want the equivalent of Medicare for all if it means abolishing private health insurance plans”.



  • Crossing the U.S. border without permission is a federal crime (Section 1325 of Title 8 of the U.S. code), but one that was seldom enforced after being passed in 1929. Instead, first-time illegal crossers were typically deported under civil, not criminal, proceedings. However, this began to change under George W. Bush’s policy ‘Operation Streamline’, which sought to increase prosecutions for illegal entry as a deterrence to people wanting to cross the border illegally.

  • Prosecutions continued to grow under the Obama administration, and have been further ramped up under the Trump administration, which used Section 1325 to implement its now disavowed “zero-tolerance” and family separation policy. Because children cannot be charged with any crime, when their parents are criminally charged and jailed, they cannot go with them and have hence been held in shelters or foster care.

  • There is now a growing debate within the Democrat party around whether the criminal law should be abolished entirely, amidst growing concerns regarding the consequences of how the law is used.


  • While Sanders and Warren support decriminalization, Bullock and O’Rourke (who is from the Texas border town, El Paso) oppose it.

  • Sen. Warren: "I've seen the mothers, I've seen the cages of babies. We must be a country that every day lives our values and that means we cannot make it a crime when someone comes in."

  • Gov. Bullock: “You are playing into Donald Trump’s hands. The challenge isn’t that it’s a criminal offense to cross the border. The challenge is that Donald Trump is president, and using this to rip families apart. A sane immigration system needs a sane leader. And we can do that without decriminalizing.”


  • According to a recent Hill-HarrisX poll, 41% of voters support criminal prosecution for illegal border crossing, 32% said it ought just to warrant a fine. Voters were clearly split along party lines on this issue, with 67% of Republican supporters favoring criminal prosecution compared to just 24% of Democrats.

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Night Two

Fast Facts:

  • Most Googled Candidate: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

  • Most speaking time: Biden at 21:27 minutes, then Harris at 17:18

  • Fun fact: "Who is winning the debate tonight?" was the top trending question being asked with a surge of +2,200% in searches



  • Biden and Harris quickly launched into a debate regarding their respective healthcare proposals on night 2 of the Democratic debates. While Biden criticized Harris’s Medicare-for-All plan for being too expensive, Harris branded his plan to add a so-called “public option” to Obama’s Affordable Care Act insufficient, and claimed it would exclude almost 10 million Americans’ from healthcare coverage (by Biden’s own admission, his policy would cover 97% of Americans, leaving out 10 million).


  • Harris recently published a health care plan that is a reworked version of Sander’s Medicare-for-All plan, of which she is a co-sponsor. Under Harris’ plan, everyone would be moved to a single-payer system over a 10-year transition period, but there would remain a heavily regulated private insurance market to compete with the government plan. She proposes funding the system through a tax increase for those earning more than $100,000 (Sanders has proposed a 4% tax on income above $29,000).

  • Biden’s campaign was quick to criticize the plan prior to the debates, calling it a "have-it-every-which-way approach" that is "a Bernie-Sanders-lite Medicare for all” and can’t be funded without raising taxes on the middle class.

  • Sanders’ campaign also slammed the Harris policy proposal, saying it couldn’t be called “Medicare-for-all”.


  • Biden: “Obamacare is working….Go back and take back all the things that Trump took away and provide a public option.”

  • Harris: “For a Democrat to be running for president with a plan that does not cover everyone, I think is without excuse.”




  • Sen Cory Booker attacked Biden for his role in the controversial 1994 tough-on-crime bill, signed by Bill Clinton, which experts say was a contributing factor to America’s mass incarceration problem. The $30bn package implemented a spate of new measures aimed at tackling America’s rising level of violent crime, including a "three strikes" mandatory life sentence for repeat offenders, an expansion of the federal death penalty, mandatory minimum sentencing, and “truth in sentencing” incentives to prompt states to implement tougher punishments and limit parole.

  • Its measures have been criticized for being more punitive than rehabilitative, for disproportionately targeting black Americans, and for dramatically increasing the prison population, which experts say did not help to bring down crime.


  • Booker has led the way amongst 2020 candidates in putting forward proposals for criminal justice reform in America. His comprehensive plan to fix America’s prison system is called the ‘Next Step Act’ and includes a sweep of bold measures that aim to progress reforms initiated under the First Step Act, including reducing mandatory sentences and eliminating the discrepancy between crack and powder cocaine sentences.


  • During the debates, Booker accused Biden of helping to create America’s ‘broken’ penal system. “Mr. Vice President...the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibility for those laws… you can’t just now come out with a plan to put out that fire.”

  • Biden tried to rebut the attacks by bringing up Booker’s record as mayor… but Booker came back with one of the winning lines of the debate: “Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community, you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor…” Ouch.

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Words by: Emma-Louise Boynton
Editing by: Jim Cowles, Stacy Perez, Charlotte Cowles and Emma-Louise Boynton