Three things Democrats disagreed on during round two of the debates

By Alexandra Yetter, News Editor

Shane Tolentino
Photos/Associated Press

The latest debate put a spotlight on tensions within the Democratic Party as candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination work to set themselves apart in the eyes of voters.

Tuesday night’s debate held in Detroit’s Fox Theatre, the first of two debates on back-to-back nights, featured 10 of the 25 Democratic candidates and emphasized stark contrasts among them.

On one hand, Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tag-teamed more moderate candidates such as Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

And on the other, contrasts in age were apparent centerstage as two of the youngest candidates—South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)—sandwiched two of the oldest candidates, Sanders and Warren.

Also onstage was Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and author Marianne Williamson, a surprising standout.

Candidates discussed both political ideology and age during the debate. We’re breaking down three of the most stark disagreements from round two of the Democratic debates.

Young vs. old; moderate vs. progressive

Age has dominated all three of the debates thus far, usually at the expense of older candidates.

When 37-year-old Buttigieg, the youngest candidate in the field, was asked whether voters should take age into consideration, Buttigieg answered: “I don’t care how old you are; I care about your vision. But I do think it matters that we have a new generation of leaders.”

In responding to Buttigieg, 77-year-old Sanders, the oldest candidate, took the opportunity to agree with Buttigieg—vision does matter—then touted his own vision for policies such as Medicare for All and free public college, both of which framed much of the debate, and which other candidates such as Warren began to support only in recent years.

Both Sanders and Warren fielded attacks from their younger counterparts, with Sanders at one point waving his hands in the air and grumbling in his signature manner at Hickenlooper’s taunting, and at another point shouting about Medicare for All while sparring with Ryan: “I do know it. I wrote the damn bill!”

In possibly the most memorable soundbite of the night, Warren butted heads with Delaney, who has been struggling in the polls.

“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” she said.

To Green New Deal or not to Green New Deal

Democrats onstage Tuesday all believe the world needs to address the climate crisis, but they vary on how. O’Rourke has said he would reenter the Paris Climate Agreement and legally bind the U.S. to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but his plans for addressing what Warren called “an existential crisis” during the debate have been criticized for not being aggressive enough.

Meanwhile, more progressive candidates such as Sanders and Buttigieg have voiced support for the Green New Deal, but that 14-page document is also greatly criticized by other 2020 candidates such as Hickenlooper, Delaney and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock for not being bipartisan enough.

“I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas,” Sanders said in response to Hickenlooper’s climate position. “Here is the bottom line: What do you do with an industry that knowingly, for billions of dollars in short-term profits, is destroying this planet? I say that is criminal activity. That should not be allowed to happen.”

Who can (and how to) beat Trump

The most contentious debate question centered around electability, specifically on which candidate believed they could beat President Donald Trump in November 2020’s general election. Moderates argued their progressive peers would polarize centrist voters who are averse to Medicare for All, while the more liberal candidates argued the opposite, that Democrats need more progressive leaders and their daring proposals to inspire the base.

Although Sanders pointed to Gallup polls showing he would beat Trump, Buttigieg—who has both swayed left and center on various policies—was the only candidate to push his specific proposals for sweeping structural reforms for a country he said already had divisions before Trump was elected.

“When I propose the actual structural democratic reforms that might make a difference … people look at me funny, as if this country was incapable of structural reform,” Buttigieg said. “This is a country that once changed its constitution so you couldn’t drink, and changed it back because we changed our minds, and you’re telling me we can’t reform our democracy in our time? We have to or we will be having the same argument 20 years from now.”

Tonight, 10 more Democratic candidates will take the stage on CNN at 7 p.m. CST, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Check back with for coverage of tonight’s debates