On the second night of CNN's Democratic primary debates Wednesday, the 10 candidates present featured fewer sharp ideological divisions but just as much sniping and unnecessary focus on obscure disagreements as were present the previous evening.
The debate started out particularly slowly, with an extensive focus on the differences in the outlines of different Democrats' health care plans. But because the moderators never explained these differences and instead simply set up opportunities for the candidates to attack each other, viewers were likely left wondering what the context of the disagreements actually was and how much of it really mattered.
But eventually, the debate did allow some of the candidates to make important points — particularly about their differences with President Donald Trump and the Republicans — in ways that were clear and important. Former Vice President Joe Biden was also the target of much criticism.
Here is my — necessarily subjective, of course —list of seven of the best moments from the debate and four of the worst:
- Sen. Cory Booker called out Joe Biden's fearmongering on immigration. Though Biden should know better, he pretended as though decriminalizing the unauthorized border crossings would remove any sanctions for this conduct, even though it would leave civil penalties in place. Booker quickly debunked the former vice president's claims, and he later criticized Biden's comments about giving PhD-holding immigrants green cards as playing into the president's anti-immigrant rhetoric.
- Gov. Jay Inslee went off on Trump. "We can no longer allow a white nationalist to be in the White House."
- Rep. Tusi Gabbard hit Sen. Kamala Harris's aggressive record as a prosecutor. This debate was tougher on Harris because she had a target on her back after her previously stellar performance. And Gabbard came out swinging. "[Harris] put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana."
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand pointed out that that it's Republicans who want to take away Americans' health care. She correctly said that focusing too much on the differences between Democrats' health care plans distracts from the most important issue.
- Harris explained that the Fed chair said Wednesday that Trump's trade wars are hurting the economy, and she argued this shows he broken his promise to improve trade. "He betrayed the American people."
- Julián Castro denounced the travesty that Eric Garner's killer escaped punishment and is still employed as a cop. "That police officer should be off the street."
- Andrew Yang attacked Trump as a "reality TV show president." Overall, Yang's performance was much more impressive than it was in the first round, and he repeatedly hammered home his plan for a universal basic income.
- Biden made a bizarre comment when criticized for Obama's high levels of deportations. He said that the former president had to deal with everything but "locusts," seeming to imply that this made Obama's deportation rate excusable. But it also seemed to imply, whether intentionally or not, that waves of immigration are like a biblical plague.
- Sen. Michael Bennet fearmongered about ending private insurance and raising taxes for health care. Echoing many of the moderate Democrats from the first CNN debate night, Bennet engaged in self-defeating rhetoric against Democratic health care plans.
- The tedious Biden-Harris health care debates. Moderators spent much of the first hour of the debate pitting Harris and Biden against each other, apparently trying to generate the conflict seen in the previous round of debates. It didn't work, and the seemingly endless and circular debate didn't move the discussion forward at all.
- Biden calling Harris "kid." Enough said.