Tensions between Democrats rise in the fifth Democratic Debate


Marco Rivero

Democrats clashed in their fifth debate before the Iowa Caucus

One night can make all the difference. For the ten Democratic candidates, it could be the saving night for their campaigns, or the final failure that ends their campaigns. For four of the ten candidates, the debate will decide whether or not they will take the crucial primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Former Vice President Joe Biden, are in a four-way race with most polls having no clear winner at the moment. In New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are being threatened by the resurgence of Biden as they stand in a three-way race for New Hampshire. For the other six candidates, this debate is their last-ditch effort to make an impact on voters.




Entrepreneur, Andrew Yang

Following Andrew Yang’s poor performance in the fourth Democratic Debate, the Californian entrepreneur needed a win to keep his struggling campaign afloat. For the past few debates, Yang has gained criticism for being a single-issue candidate and failing to provide anything more than UBI as a reason to vote for him. Last night, Yang was a strong presence on stage and gave incredibly strong responses when asked about childcare and other policies. With his strong loyal fanbase continuing to contribute to his campaign and his strong showing during the debate as a progressive voice in the party, Yang will most likely make it to Iowa and maybe even beyond.

Representative of Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard came out swinging for the entire night. After an extremely poor performance in the last debate and multiple appearances on right-wing talk shows alienating her leftist base, Tulsi’s campaign and political career were looking extremely shaky. In the debate though, she was a strong leader from the left as she attacked her centrist opponents without embracing the Obama-centric neo-liberal rhetoric that opponents like Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris embraced. She stood her own versus Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris while debating on their pasts as politicians and did a great job as being one of the only progressives to properly critique their colleagues from the left, which has allowed centrist candidates to push their rhetoric for too long. Despite her great night, however, Gabbard will most likely remain low in the polls due to the better options progressives have with Bernie Sanders and that more moderate progressives have with Elizabeth Warren. 

Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg 

Pete Buttigieg has been the media favorite for a while now. After showcasing his calm Obama-esque demeanor in previous debates, Buttigieg has become a man who is extremely skilled at saying nothing in the best way possible. While not pushing a lot of policies during the debate, mostly because his policies go very far right, which would alienate his progressive supporters, Buttigieg did a great job at sounding smart and sounding like a leader. While a cynical strategy, it is undeniably effective, as Buttigieg spent most of the night mostly avoiding substantial criticism while courting voters with his Obama-esque demeanor. The one moment during the night during which the mayor found himself in trouble was when Representative Gabbard brought up his support of American intervention in Mexico, something which Buttigieg had a hard time dealing with. While this debate will be undeniably good for Buttigieg’s campaign and possibly give him the edge he needs in Iowa to win, weaknesses of his that were exposed by Gabbard show that the Indiana mayor falters when he comes under criticism.

Senator of Vermont, Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders has had a great series of months since the last debate. Following his headline-making heart attack which had many pundits questioning his place in the race, Bernie came back hard, gaining major endorsements from Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley that pushed the candidate back to the top. Bernie Sanders now stands as the candidate with the most campaign contributions with the largest people-powered movement in the history of American politics. In Wednesday’s debate, Sanders came out strong against his centrist counterparts by not shying away from stressing his foreign policy plans. The junior Senator of Vermont condemned Saudi Arabia as a dictatorship and stressed the need for peaceful relations with the Palestinian people and an end to the West Bank crisis. Sanders’ willingness to put his ideas out there with no remorse will resonate with voters as it contrasts with moments like Buttigieg avoiding to state that he would reduce the military budget, most likely because he supports compulsory military service programs and Warren shying away from fully condemning the practices of Saudi Arabia. Bernie’s biggest problem now is his lack of willingness to attack his peers. While this debate brought great moments of criticism among Booker, Gabbard, and even Harris, Bernie still will not criticize his progressive counterparts, which is undoubtedly hurting his poll numbers. If Bernie hopes to win, he must criticize his progressive counterparts and continue to keep his policies transparent.

Senator of Massachusets, Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren had another great night. Since the fourth Democratic Debate, Warren has been slowly pushing on Biden’s lead and stands at an almost equal level of support as Sanders in most polls. Warren’s strategy of being a more palatable version of Bernie Sanders has worked well for her as she now stands in the top three in most early primary states. Last night, the senator pushed forward her ideas in a concise and clear way that matched the tone of Buttigieg and had the substance of Sanders. While there were some concerning moments such as her apparent support of expanding the ACA for three years before enacting Medicare-for-all, something which would heavily anger the progressive base, Warren, for the most part, remained a clear leader in the progressive left and sparred well in defending her Wealth Tax. In the end, the debates are a battle of ideas, and the more Warren combines her charisma with substantive policy, the more likely she is to win the populist left states she needs to in order to become the Democratic nominee.




Senator of Minnesota Klobuchar

Amy once again has embraced her stance as the centrist voice of the Democratic Party. Throughout the night, she used her time to challenge her progressive counterparts and critique their proposed plans as being supposedly unachievable. Klobuchar stands as a candidate that is similar to Buttigieg but lacks one thing that any liberal centrist must have to be successful: charisma. Unlike the intelligent-sounding and concise Buttigieg, Klobuchar often looked like an unstable, angry person who offered no substantive answers or alternatives to the plans she criticized. As the populist left becomes more and more substantial within the Democratic Party, candidates like Klobuchar who fail to make any sort of impact will have a hard time capturing the coveted Democratic nomination. During the night, Klobuchar was shaking as she talked. With Klobuchar positioning herself to be the strong confident leader who can get things done, a noticeable shake is concerning to her campaign and her image. 

Senator of California, Kamala Harris

Harris, once again, did not have a great night. In the debates following her strong performance versus Joe Biden in the first Presidential Debate, Harris has slowly declined to be, arguably, one of the most useless candidates on the stage. Floundering repeatedly when placed under criticism, Harris, who represents a very similar brand of politics to the brand that Hillary Clinton represented in 2016, had her long-awaited duel with Tulsi Gabbard. Following Gabbard’s strong attacks on Clinton and the Democratic Establishment, Harris attempted to argue for party loyalty – this quickly backfired for her, as many people respected Gabbard for candidly admitting the problems within the Democratic Party. With Harris polling below Tulsi in most polls and failing to even marginally reach her home state of California, Harris will most likely not make it much farther.

Former Vice-President, Joe Biden

Despite his improving performance in the past few debates, Biden has once again devolved into the Bush-esque comments and vocal flubs that dominated his campaign earlier this year. Biden minimally provided substantive proposals throughout the night and lost hardily in his exchange versus Cory Booker, as his opponent called out Biden for announcing he would not support the legalization of marijuana. Biden retorted Booker’s claims by stating that it was fine because he had black friends – an oft-repeated defense by many wishing to avoid claims of racism – something which once again backfired as he claimed he was supported by the only black woman in the U.S. Senate, forgetting Kamala Harris. Moments like this not only make the Biden campaign look weak but make voters question his commitment versus the fight against racism. Biden will most likely continue to leak support to his centrist counterparts, but if he embraces the angry old man within him, the same angry old man that attacked Tom Steyer during the debate last night, Biden has a chance to come back and, possibly, take Iowa.