The United States is just under a year and and a half away from its next presidential election which, inexplicably, means it's time for the first round of candidate debates! I know, it's horrifying. Since no less than 24 Democrats have announced their candidacy, this year's inaugural Democratic debates have been split in half: Ten last night and ten Thursday night (the other four didn't make the 'should we take them seriously?' cut). To save you from the rabbit hole of politics Twitter—and the reminder of the last time we did this democratic dance—we're picking out the most unusual and unexpected pieces of this initial debate for you to contemplate.
Democrats are finally using the right words to talk about important topics! (Well, everyone besides Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who may have never said the word "LGBTQ" out loud before tonight). Senator Elizabeth Warren mentioned the "Latinx" community 50 seconds into her opening statements. Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro defined the term "reproductive justice," and Senator Cory Booker denounced violence against African American trans women. Hearing presidential candidates give air time to these often "controversial" topics and buzzwords on prime time TV is progress.
Perhaps less revolutionary but a relief: NBC moderators pitched candidates questions about climate change that weren't just "IS IT REAL THO?" And you bet Washington Governor Jay Inslee was ready to answer them.
Beto O'Rourke speaks Spanish, everyone! You know what? Cory Booker ALSO speaks Spanish! Hell, even the NBC moderator speaks Spanish! Candidates reaaaally wanted you to know that they are extra-special because of the languages they speak, people they know, places they've lived, or blue collar factory they've visited.
Okay, I guess this was expected—but it was the superlatives that really got me. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that, since he's the only candidate that's raised a Black son in America, he truly understands why Black Americans fear the police. Cut to wide-eyed Cory Booker, the only Black man on the debate stage (but one of two Black men running for president) whose personal experience might be a little more relevant that the old white man running NYC.
But Booker had his own cringe-y moments of self-aggrandizing. "I'm the only one on this panel here that had seven people shot in their neighborhood just last week," Booker boasted during a gun reform discussion. Congrats? Don't forget: Senator Amy Klobuchar knows folksy sayings about beer and has an Uncle Dick who hunts!
The main takeaway here is that I expect tonight's debate to be entirely in Spanish.
We all knew Elizabeth Warren was going to wipe the panel with her polished policy proposals and deep understanding of class warfare. What the Dems didn't expect was for so-called underdog Julián Castro to steal the spotlight with his whip-smart, impassioned, and succinct answers to moderator's questions. Castro's the only candidate with experience in the executive branch, and served as mayor of San Antonio before serving as Obama's Housing Secretary—where he instilled long-lasting progressive development and education policies. (As a former San Antonian, I stan the Castro twins).
Despite his low polling numbers, Castro didn't go soft in the first debate. Instead, Castro pledged to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, swore to appoint judges to federal courts that support abortion access, and critiqued the differential treatment law enforcement grants white supremacists over unarmed people of color. Perhaps most notably, Castro pushed fellow candidates to support repealing a law that makes it a crime to illegally cross into the US. It's this specific policy that's driving the federal practice of separating immigrant kids from their parents—a trend that all candidates denounced in the evening debate. Castro's fellow Texan progressive, Beto O'Rourke hasn't supported this policy repeal.
"I just think it’s a mistake, Beto. I think it’s a mistake," said Castro, during a heated confrontation with O'Rourke. "And I think that, if you truly want to change the system, that we’ve got to repeal it."
Congressman Tim Ryan
This guy has allegedly been an active member of Congress for 17 years, but I swear no one else knew this until tonight. Including himself. Ryan boldly maintained the "I-thought-this-was-an-exit-door-oh-no-now-I'm-part-of-a-terrible-game-show" look the entire evening, which seemed to be working in his favor until he got the Taliban and Al-Qaeda mixed up. Ryan tiptoed into self-awareness in his closing statement, reminding the public, "There’s nothing worse than not being seen.” That was probably the last time we will ever see Congressmen Ryan.