It would be silly to expect much actual debating at this week’s Democratic primary debates. Twenty candidates—ten on each night—will take the stage, on Wednesday and Thursday, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, in Miami, a crowd of competitors so large that it won’t leave much room for deliberative back-and-forth. A more appropriate label for the events (and this has become a common campaign-year observation) might be joint national-television appearances. It’s unlikely that the viewers of the events in Miami will come away from them with a richer sense of the differences between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; or of the candidates’ varied plans for health care, student debt, the climate, and housing; or of how the candidates’ lives have shaped their beliefs and would-be governing styles.
Still, the events in Miami will mark a new stage in the 2020 election. The field is set, and, going forward, the questions will no longer be about who will get in, and why, but about who will be forced to drop out, and why. The reactions of voters, donors, and the political world to the personalities and policies of the candidates will start to harden from here, and the debates might also be seen as opportunities for a collective check-in. The longshots will be trying to cut through, to make a moment for themselves, and to get people talking. The front-runners will be trying to look the part, to contrast themselves from other front-runners, and to not screw things up too badly. This week’s debates are the first of many—by the end of the primary season, it will surely feel like the number of debates was countless. Some moments from these events will be remembered. Most will be consigned to YouTube clips watched only by political junkies and graduate students. The primaries are creeping closer, and the contest for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination is now officially in full swing.
What a Biden-Trump Presidential Race Might Look Like
Even the similarities between the two men are revealing.
Joe Biden Bets on Being the Anti-Trump Candidate
Biden has made Donald Trump his focus since the start of his campaign, the slogan of which is “Our best days lie ahead.” It might instead be “Let me at ’em.”
The Power of Joe Biden’s Personal Appeal in the Rust Belt
A rally in Pittsburgh was comfortably familiar terrain for the former Vice-President, who showed his ability to make a piercing emotional connection with his target audience.
Will Joe Biden’s History Lift Him Up or Weigh Him Down?
Biden will seek to persuade Americans that, after the agonies of Trumpism, the benefits of his experience outweigh his liabilities.
Bernie Sanders Imagines a Progressive New Approach to Foreign Policy
In Sanders’s account of global affairs, Americans have been as likely to be villains as heroes.
The Populist Prophet
Sanders has spent decades attacking inequality. Now the country is listening.
Bernie Sanders’s Walmart Speech May Offer a Preview of Larger Labor Proposals
Can the Presidential hopeful push the Democratic Party to embrace corporate co-governance as a solution to wealth disparity?
Bernie Sanders’s Electability Tour
The candidate makes a Midwest bid for front-runner status.
Can Elizabeth Warren Win It All?
The senator from Massachusetts made her name attacking Wall Street. Now she’s bringing her plans to fight outsized wealth to the 2020 Presidential race.
New Momentum for Elizabeth Warren
At a time when many of the Democratic candidates are still settling on their campaign themes, the level of detail in Warren’s plans has put her at an advantage.
Warren’s Oklahoma roots are modest. Her mother worked at Sears; her father was a janitor. Politically, she is a throwback to a more combative progressive tradition.
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Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Two Paths for the American Left
The starkest apparent point of contrast between the the two candidates is how they describe themselves ideologically.
Kamala Harris’s Choices
Before announcing her Presidential candidacy, the California senator published a memoir that serves to expand on her public persona and to explain how the part of the Democratic Party that she represents has changed.
What Kamala Harris Is Saying in Iowa, and What She Isn’t
In her second trip to the state since she announced her Presidential campaign, Harris showed herself to be warm, eager to laugh, and ready for a fight.
Pete Buttigieg on How He Plans to Win the Nomination
The surging Presidential hopeful explains a career that has included Navy service, two terms as a small-city mayor, and coming out as gay.
What Pete Buttigieg Has and Hasn’t Done About Homelessness in South Bend
Two years ago, a working group published plans to address what was seen as a growing problem in the city. Critics say the mayor’s office has been slow to act.
Pete Buttigieg’s Quiet Rebellion
Against the image of the millennial left, Buttigieg appears to be a relatively prosaic Presidential candidate. But, in his own understated way, he is suggesting a sharp break with the past.
Can Beto Bounce Back?
His Senate campaign created huge enthusiasm, but he has faltered as a Presidential candidate. He’s trying to revive his campaign by meeting every voter he can.
Beto O’Rourke’s Rorschach Candidacy
The former Texas congressman offers a New South vision of political centrism.
The Nostalgia in Beto O’Rourke’s Indie-Rock Videos
After O’Rourke praised Ian MacKaye in an interview, punk and hardcore fans scrambled to decode his allegiance. Was it even possible to be a politician and a punk simultaneously?
Kirsten Gillibrand and the New Faces of Moral Reform
Gillibrand’s Presidential campaign contains a theory about the reaction to Trump—that it represents not a leftward shift in American politics but the revelation of a new progressive moral majority.
How Cory Booker’s “Baby Bond” Proposal Could Transform the Reparations Debate
Last fall, the New Jersey senator announced a plan in which the government would create a trust account for each new infant in the United States.
The Candidate Eager to Challenge Trump on Immigration
In a crowded field, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro is trying to set himself apart by focussing on the President’s signature issue.
Jay Inslee Wants to Be a Presidential Candidate for the Climate-Change Era
“This is basically a race,” the Democratic governor of Washington says, of the growing urgency surrounding climate policy. “Who’s going to win, us or climate change?”