As the top 12 Democratic Presidential candidates went head to head on the Ohio debate stage Tuesday, Oct. 15, a jarring question emerged. Does the party really have a front runner?
The obvious answer in the beginning, was former Vice President Joe Biden. While remaining steady, Biden has not enjoyed the stamina and climactic rise of other candidates. Considering his own party was hesitant to embrace him as the front runner, his faltering lead is not a surprise.
Now eyes turn to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as the leader of the pack. She seems to have it all, the impassioned base, charisma and bold visionary ideas. Yet, Warren experienced something she had yet to encounter from her fellow candidates: dissent.
Significant push back against many of Warren’s ideas throughout the debate is enough to wonder how well she would fare in a general election.
Her proposal to eliminate all private insurance in favor of a Medicare-for-all system was shaky, at best. When questioned about the logistics and cost, she stumbled to give direct answers. Despite a strong performance otherwise, her lack of clarity on healthcare could become a deal breaker for voters.
As left leaning Democrats trudged an uphill battle, the debate also marked the rise of moderate Democrats.
In filling Biden’s waning spotlight, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) became the voice of opposition against Warren, repeatedly attacking the feasibility of her plans. As to who will take the mantle of moderate Democrats is yet to be seen, though Klobuchar and Buttigieg have both left their mark.
Much anticipation surrounded the return of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to the campaign, after suffering a recent heart attack. While coming back with a vengeance, the longevity of his campaign seems short lived. Sanders devolved into rehashing the same talking points, at times disappearing among the other candidates. Despite a passionate comeback, it may not be enough.
Casting a shadow over last night’s debate was the ongoing impeachment inquiry, within the House of Representatives, investigating the conduct of President Donald Trump.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii) answer stood out from the pack, with the warning that an impeachment based solely on partisanship is only going to divide this country further. That partisanship is a somber reflection, as no divide was clearer than within tonight’s Democratic debate.
This infighting represents a greater existential question for the Democratic party. As of now, the party is split within two wings: the moderates and the far left. All onstage acknowledged they wanted the same macro things, only with different approaches.
Though this may seem like a peaceful compromise, it does not erase the reality that the Democratic party has to make a choice. The unanswered question of party ideology still hangs over everyone’s heads.
Until the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this upcoming July, that decision does not need to be made. Yet, if beating Trump in 2020 is the main goal for Democrats, they must be willing to set aside differences. Unfortunately, that does not seem likely to happen anytime soon.