There were 10 new candidates onstage during night two of the first Democratic presidential debate — 11, if you count President Donald Trump.
After hardly being mentioned during night one of the first Democratic presidential debate, Trump — and in particular his administration’s cruelty to unauthorized immigrants — was a major theme Thursday night.
Just about every candidate unloaded on Trump’s immigration policies. Dark horse candidate Marianne Williamson went so far as to describe the Trump administration’s family separation policy as “child abuse” and “state-sponsored crimes.” John Hickenlooper described family separation as “kidnapping.” Michael Bennet said Trump “has turned the border of the United States into a symbol of nativist hostility that the whole world is looking at,” and contrasted Trump’s border wall with “the Statue of Liberty that brought my parents to the country to begin with.” Kirsten Gillibrand accused Trump of tearing “apart the moral fabric of who we are.”
But it wasn’t just those polling toward the back of the pack who criticized the president; top-tier contenders got in on it too. Pete Buttigieg attacked Trump’s immigration policy and the Republican Party’s complicity in it from a theological perspective, saying, “For a party that associates with Christianity to say it is okay to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”
Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris took shots at Trump as well. Biden and Harris mentioned Trump in the very first sentences they uttered, with Biden saying that “Donald Trump thinks Wall Street builds America” and Harris brushing off a question about how Democrats will pay for proposals by asking a moderator, “Where was that question when the Republicans and Donald Trump passed a tax bill that benefits the top 1 percent and the biggest corporations, to the debt of America, which middle-class families will pay for one way or another?”
Though Sanders didn’t mention Trump in response to the first question he received about whether he supports tax hikes for the middle class, he unloaded on the president a bit later when asked if he thinks his embrace of socialism would make it tough for him in a general election contest.
“The polls have us 10 points ahead of Donald Trump because the American people understand that Trump is a phony,” Sanders said. “Trump is a pathological liar and a racist, and he lied to the American people during his campaign. He said he was going to stand up for working families. Well, President Trump, you are not standing up for working families when you try to throw 32 million people off the health care that they have and that 83 percent of your tax [cut] benefits go to the top 1 percent. That’s how we beat Trump. We expose him for the fraud that he is.”
Biden — whose performance was generally panned, including reportedly by his own staff — tried to reduce the problems confronted America to the presence of Trump in the Oval Office.
“Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation,” he said. “We do have enormous income inequality. ... I would be going about eliminating Donald Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy.”
Asked what would be the first thing he would do in office, Biden said, “The first thing I would do is make sure that we defeat Donald Trump — period.”
Harris — who is widely receiving plaudits as the night’s breakout star — echoed something Jay Inslee said Wednesday, and described Trump as “the greatest national security threat to the United States.”
“Climate change represents an existential threat. He denies the science,” Harris said.
In total, Trump was mentioned 17 more times than on night number one, with Biden mentioning him the most. Gillibrand and Williamson — who ended her night with a bizarre rant about how she “will harness love for political purposes” and beat Trump “on that field” — both mentioned him seven times.
While four of the five top polling candidates were on the stage Thursday night — the lone exception being Elizabeth Warren, who debated Wednesday — it’s not totally clear why Trump was more of a focus on night two than on night one. It makes sense that candidates like Biden and Sanders, who have a better shot at squaring off against Trump in a general election contest, would start to make the case against him as soon as possible, but even long shot candidates onstage Thursday spent a lot of time talking about him.
In any case, Trump — who is currently in Japan for the G20 — apparently wasn’t too busy to pay a bit of attention to the debate. He posted a tweet criticizing all 10 candidates who were onstage for “rais[ing] their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare. How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!”
Later, during a photo op with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump told her he was “looking forward to spending time with you instead of watching” the proceedings.