Given the chance to contrast their policies with President Trump’s or snipe at each other, Democratic candidates for the White House largely chose the latter.
A phalanx of Democrats eager to continue on the road to the Oval Office sought to throw mud at two of the pack’s leaders, former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris, in a second night of debate telecast by CNN. For some, the back-and-forth could represent their last chance to get their views out; without additional support ,some of the candidates are in danger of not meeting heightened criteria for a third set of debates set to be telecast by ABC News and Univision in September from Houston.
After two hours of sniping, however, the attempts to discredit Biden and Harris stopped having their desired impact. “You’re spending a lot of time with me,” said Biden bemusedly to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spent a good portion of the evening trying to trip up Biden on his actions and past record. When New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand attacked Biden for comments she said he made in a past op-ed about women working outside the home, Biden pushed back and said Gillibrand had never called him out on such stuff until she began running for president.
Some candidates went after Harris as well. She gained traction during debates with Biden televised last month on NBC, calling him out for past policies. In this go-round Harris found herself squaring off against Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, for example.
Others attempted to follow Harris’ playbook. Biden found himself arguing with Senator Cory Booker, for example, as well as former Housing Secretary Julian Castro.
Some made moves to stand apart. Washington Governor Jay Inslee made impassioned remarks about the need to make the environment the most important issue for Americans, predicting dire consequences to ignoring the effects of a rapidly changing global client. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang cautioned against treating the debates as a reality program, rather than a serious forum for learning about candidates’ policies.
At various moments, the candidates took time to remind viewers – and themselves – that their true rival was President Donald Trump, not each other. “We have a predator living in the White House,” said Senator Harris. “Donald Trump has predatory nature and predatory instincts.” She added: What we need is someone who is going to be on that debate stage with Donald Trump and defeat him.”
CNN relied on a trio of moderators: Don Lemon, Dana Bash and Jake Tapper. At times, the newscasters seemed to be eager to spark conflagration between two specific candidates – Biden and Harris – rather than ask broad questions of the whole group. At other moments, they allowed for real debate, not interrupting a brewing back-and-forth.