- The top 10 contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination faced off Thursday night during the third primary debate of the 2020 election season.
- The biggest question heading into the night was how the candidates would position themselves against their competitors and who would draw the most blood on the debate stage.
- While the frontrunners focused on promoting their policies, many lower-rung candidates focused their attacks on the one person who wasn’t in the room: President Donald Trump.
- Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas called Trump a white supremacist.
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said Trump was “treating our farmers and our workers as poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.”
- And Sen. Kamala Harris of California called the president “a really small dude.”
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The big question entering Thursday night’s third Democratic primary debate was who the candidates would spend the most time attacking.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s been the frontrunner in polls since entering the race in April, trained his sights on Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Both are progressive firebrands, and Biden’s decision to target them was most likely part of an effort to paint them as being too extreme for a general election and to position himself as the better alternative.
On the other hand, Warren, Sanders, and the entrepreneur Andrew Yang adopted similar strategies: All three spent little time attacking their competitors – even when they were criticized – and instead focused on promoting their own policies.
The other six candidates largely focused their attacks on the one person who wasn’t in the room: President Donald Trump.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas called Trump a white supremacist.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said Trump was “treating our farmers and our workers as poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.”
And Sen. Kamala Harris of California called the president “a really small dude.”
Scroll down to read more about how each of them drew blood Thursday night:
- Mike Blake/Reuters
Castro, the former secretary of housing and urban development, devoted a lot of his debate performance to focusing on his own policies and, at times, directing barbs at top contenders like former Vice President Joe Biden.
But Castro, who like Biden worked under President Barack Obama, didn’t hesitate to attack Trump.
“Say goodbye to Donald Trump,” Castro said in his opening statement. He went on to say Democrats would control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate by 2021.
Later, Castro went after Trump on immigration, saying the president had “a dark heart when it comes to immigrants” and adding that Trump built “his whole career” around scapegoating migrants.
The Minnesota senator went hard after Trump in her opening statement and at a few other points in the debate. But like Castro, she also spent most of her time focusing on her own proposals.
“I may not be the loudest person up here, but I think we already have that in the White House,” Klobuchar said in her opening statement.
Later in the debate, she said that the president was “running our country like a game show” and that he would “rather lie than lead.”
She also attacked Trump’s handling of the trade war with China and pointed out the detrimental effects his policies had had on his base.
“He’s treating our farmers and our workers as poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos,” Klobuchar said to audience applause.
The former Texas congressman has made gun control a major platform issue, and he wasted no time in criticizing the president for his stance on firearms and for his rhetoric on race.
“On August 3, in El Paso, we realized just how dangerous Donald Trump is,” O’Rourke said, referring to the mass shooting in his hometown that resulted in 22 deaths and 24 injuries.
The suspect posted a racist manifesto online hours before the shooting that echoed much of Trump’s and white nationalists’ rhetoric toward immigrants.
O’Rourke on Thursday night said “the racism that had long been a part of America” was brought out into the open in El Paso.
He also called Trump a “white supremacist” later in the debate and said the president “poses a mortal threat to people all across this country.”
The New Jersey senator frequently calls out Trump for his record on race and immigration, and Thursday was no different.
Booker called Trump a racist but added that “there’s no red badge of courage” for describing the president that way.
He added that Trump’s “America First” policy was instead an “America alone” policy.
Trump “is pulling us away from our allies” on every major issue, Booker said, like trade, climate change, foreign policy, and national security.
- Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, landed a few zingers, too.
On race, Buttigieg said the biggest thing that had “deepened divisions in this country is the conduct of this president.”
He also said Trump had “no strategy” on trade. He pointed out how Trump made fun of him when he entered the race and said Buttigieg wouldn’t be able to make deals with other countries.
“I’d like to see him make a deal with Xi Jinping,” Buttigieg said of the Chinese president as the crowd broke into cheers.
Buttigieg, who is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, also slammed Trump for appearing to profit off US troops after recent reporting from Politico found that Air Force crews repeatedly stayed at the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland while making military trips.
- REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
The California senator took the cake in going after Trump.
She spoke directly to the president in her opening statement and accused him of spending the past two years “trying to sow hate and division” among Americans.
“You have used hate, intimidation, fear, and over 12,000 lies as a way to distract from your failed policies and your broken promises,” Harris said. She added that “the only reason” Trump had not been indicted was a Justice Department policy that sitting presidents could not be indicted.
“The American people are so much better than this,” Harris said, later concluding: “And now, President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News.”
Harris also didn’t pull any punches when discussing the gun-violence epidemic in the US, saying Trump “didn’t pull the trigger, but he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.”
On trade, Harris said he conducted policy “by tweet, frankly, borne out of his fragile ego.”
She later added: “Donald Trump, in office, on trade policy, he reminds me of that guy in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ who, you know, when you pull back the curtain, it’s like, a really small dude.”
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