Battle Royale Between Moderates And Progressives In First Debate

Jul 31, 2019

Ten Democrats took the stage at the Fox Theatre in Detroit Tuesday for the first night of the July debates. WKAR’s Abigail Censky was watching in Detroit and she joined WKAR Morning Edition Host Mary Ellen Pitney to recap the big takeaways from the first night in the set of debates. 

Interview Highlights

Battle Royale Between Moderates And Progressives

“And the really big theme of the night was actually foreshadowed by former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and his opening statement when he talked about the fight between progressives and moderates to seize hold of the Democratic party during 2020. This is a bit of that opening statement: ‘Last year we flipped 40 Republican seats in the House, and not one of those 40 Democrats support the policies of our front runners at center stage. Now I share their progressive values, but I'm a little more pragmatic.’”

Although, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper may be forced to bid adieu to a national audience as a 2020 candidate if his poll numbers and fundraising don’t improve, part of his opening statement was prescient. Much of the debate was consumed by lesser known moderate candidates seeking to carve out a niche in opposition to Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who were billed as the headliners of the first night before it began. 

Firebrands Fight Back

“I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas.” 

Sanders and Warren continued to punch back as moderates on stage attempted to winnow away their sweeping policy proposals by discrediting their viability, stating their inability to appeal to large portions of the electorate. In response, both candidates cautioned against party skittishness to adopt structural reforms as an attempt to appeal to a plurality of voters. 

Hindsight In Advance Of 2020?

“I don't think any Democrat who looks back on it will say, ‘Whoa, those changes were too big.’ You know, the Wagner Act and letting people actually bargain, child labor laws, minimum wages, right? The 40-hour work week...I don’t.... The idea that those were radical changes at that time. So, I think that people are hungry for vision, and for no b.s.”

Congressman Andy Levin, who represents Michigan’s ninth congressional district, was fresh off of endorsing Warren. He spoke as a surrogate on her behalf in the spin room. Levin argued many policies widely accepted now as harbingers of progressive values and equity now, were cast as radical ideas at the time they were proposed. 

Ten more Democrats will be on the stage Wednesday as part of the second night of debates. For many candidates, this is their last chance to make waves with national voters in order to qualify for the September debates in Houston. The Democratic National Committee will raise the bar again, requiring 130,000 unique donors and registering in number of officially recognized DNC polls. 

Follow Abigail on Twitter: @AbigailCensky