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Who Won the Debate? Depends on Who You Think Can Beat Trump

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Who Won the Debate? Depends on Who You Think Can Beat Trump

Kurt Bardella, Opinion contributor
Published 12:10 a.m. ET Jan. 15, 2020 | Updated 2:17 a.m. ET Jan. 15, 2020

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Democrats need to put Trump at the center of their debates

Imagine being a Democratic primary voter watching Tuesday night’s debate. What we’ve learned in this marathon process is that primary voters care more about choosing a candidate who can beat Donald Trump than the specific policy nuances that differentiate the candidates from one another. Given that, you would think every candidate on stage would turn every single question into an indictment against the president. Seems obvious, but much different in application.

Let’s be very clear about what is in store for the future Democratic nominee. He or she will be up against a president who is willing to commit impeachable offenses in order to dig up dirt on his opponents. A Republican Party that is willing to use the levers of power to cover-up his treachery. Trump and the GOP will use every tool at their disposal to turn this election into a race to the bottom. They will lie. They will try to silence minority voters. They will do anything it takes to win.

For voters looking for the candidate who is best equipped to handle the coming GOP onslaught, there were some encouraging moments.

Trump isn’t going to tell the truth

In recent weeks, we have unnecessarily been brought to the brink of war with Iran, former Vice President Joe Biden made a point to say that didn’t believe Trump’s unfounded declaration that “four embassies” were under imminent threat of attack in order to justify his assassination of a top Iranian general. Biden also attacked Trump for giving North Korea “legitimacy” by meeting with and receiving love letters from their “Supreme Leader.”

Thirty-five minutes into the debate, Senator Amy Klobuchar gave a very compelling answer on trade, invoking specific examples of how Iowans have been hurt by Trump’s trade war.

Addressing the issue of electability and sexism, Senator Elizabeth Warren resisted getting into a fight with Senator Bernie Senators to deliver one of the best lines of the entire night, “the men on this stage, collectively, they have lost 10 elections, the only people on stage who have won every election they have been in are the women.” Warren also pointed out that she’s the only Democrat to defeat an incumbent Republican Senator in the last 30 years.

Sanders for his part forecast that “the campaign that we are gonna run will expose the fraudulency of who Donald Trump is. Donald Trump is corrupt, a pathological liar, and he is a fraud.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg had one of the most effective Trump takedowns of the night saying, “I’m ready to take on Donald Trump because when he gets to the tough talk and the chest-thumping, he’ll have to stand next to an America war veteran and explain how he pretended bone spurs made him ineligible to serve.”

Democrats need to change their debates

By-and-large, the debate was cordial. I doubt it changed anything. Knowing that, maybe it’s time the Democrats running for president start debating as if Donald Trump were on stage with them. It shouldn’t take a moderator prompting the candidates about Trump for them to invoke him, his record, his words, his conduct. The nuanced dialogue we’re hearing from Democrats about health care, climate change, social justice, foreign policy, etc. will be a thing of the past, as moderator Abby Phillip astutely pointed out in one of the final questions of the night.

Yet, as the debate unfolded, I was underwhelmed. The candidates seldom invoked Trump and attacked the hypocrisy of the GOP when the primary voters are desperately looking for the candidate who can best take them on.

Kurt Bardella is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella

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