Voters Were The Biggest Losers Of CNN’s Democratic Debates

The two nights of debates were formatted in a manner that offered little substance and sought to validate narratives that CNN wanted to establish.
Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

CNN headed into this week with an agenda, and it wasn’t to inform the American people. The two-night Democratic debates on Tuesday and Wednesday were clearly organized with the objective of obtaining soundbites and to depict a divide within the Democratic Party. While some candidates were deemed winners and losers, a real disservice was done to serious voters who were seeking nuanced discussions on the issues they care about.

The debate format incentivized candidates to launch personal attacks and didn’t leave much room for substantive debates. The candidates had 60 seconds to respond to questions from the CNN moderators (Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, and Don Lemon), 30 seconds to respond to another candidate’s remarks, and 15 seconds to clarify their statements if asked. While it’s arguable that this format may have been necessary in order to compensate for the 10 candidates on stage each night, the questions did nothing to make the most of that time.

CNN moderators, especially Jake Tapper, framed multiple questions with GOP talking points and cut candidates off mid-sentence. Night one’s questions included “Do you believe Medicare for All is political suicide?” and one to Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) trying to spark a personal attack: “Who are you referring to when you say candidates are making promises just to get elected?” It also included questions about whether their immigration plans would encourage illegal immigration, essentially trying to validate Trump’s false “open borders” attack line.

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In night one, CNN moderators repeatedly questioned John Delaney and Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who are polling at 1%, about Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) plans in order to try and showcase a stark divide in the party between moderates and progressive. It became hard to recognize that Democrats are actually on the same page on a lot of goals and merely differ on how to get there.

Night one really tried to push the idea that Democrats are moving too far to the left, another GOP talking point. When you poll most progressive policies on their own merit, Americans love them. Can we, for once, talk about how far-right the nationalist Republicans have moved?

We didn’t really get a very substantive debate until the first part of night two, where former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) began to get into the weeds of their healthcare plans. Both nights, CNN moderators continued to press the candidates into personal attacks rather than letting them unfold naturally, unfortunately, the candidates played into it. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Joe Biden got into it over criminal justice. While the CNN moderators seemed prepped with research on most candidates, none seemed to question the Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D) on her defense of the murderous Syrian despot Assad when asking her about foreign policy.


During night two, bolstered by New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (D), a few of the Democratic candidates leaned into critiques of President Barak Obama’s legacy after a CNN question about his deportations. The candidates spent far too much time critiquing the policies of the most popular Democrat alive rather than pivoting to the threats the Trump Administration poses today with their inhumane immigration policies, which are far worse than Obama’s. When pressed by former Obama HUD Secretary Julian Castro about Obama’s immigration policies, Biden failed to mention that Obama prioritized deporting criminals and signed the DACA executive order.

When it comes to the biggest issue humanity is facing, CNN moderators peppered Democrats with questions on how realistic their plans were to fight climate change rather than highlighting the threat itself.

Both Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker pointed to the bigger picture and broader threat of the GOP’s efforts to repeal healthcare from tens of millions of Americans when discussing the topic. The other candidates also launched some here and there, but there weren’t as many attacks on the Republican Party and President Trump as there should’ve been.

Moving forward, one can only hope the field of candidates dwindles down so we can have more time allotted to real debate, and one can also hope that the Democratic candidates themselves maintain focus. This is only the friendly battle ahead of a war with much higher stakes.

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Opinion // Democratic Party / Democratic Primary / Media