Democrats are pushing each other further left in the debates, but a few candidates want to slow it down

From left: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. and former Rep. John Delaney. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Democratic presidential candidates pushed the 2020 field further to the left on a number of key issues during the first primary debate Wednesday night.
  • The massive roster of Democratic candidates features some of the most liberal politicians in decades.
  • A few candidates, however, have attempted to rein in the increasingly left-leaning field.
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President Donald Trump and many Republicans have been admonished by Democrats, fact-checkers, and pundits for hyperbolic rhetoric on key issues, such as abortion and illegal immigration. On Twitter and during political rallies, Trump routinely says Democrats want “open borders” and unrestricted access to abortion at all times.

But the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 election cycle featured just that: candidates vowing to decriminalize unlawful border crossings and refusing to name a single limitation they would put on abortion.

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“I would make certain that every woman has access to the full range of reproductive healthcare services, and that includes birth control. It includes abortion. It includes everything for a woman,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said when asked whether she would “put limits on – any limits on abortion” by the NBC News moderator Lester Holt.

A recent poll by NPR, PBS NewsHour, and Marist found that very few Americans, including pro-choice Democrats, supported unrestricted abortion access. While most Americans in the poll said they wanted the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade to be upheld, only 21% of respondents favoured expanding abortion to be permitted under any circumstance.

Warren took other far-left healthcare stances as well. When moderators asked for a show of hands of who would eliminate the entire private-health-insurance industry, Warren volunteered.

Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, who has been running for president since mid-2017, pushed back on the idea of eliminating an entire industry, saying “100 million Americans say they like their private health insurance.”

“I mean, I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken,” he said. “I mean, doesn’t that make sense? I mean, we should give everyone in this country healthcare as a basic human right for free, full stop.”

“But we should also give them the option to buy private insurance,” Delaney added. “Why do we have to stand for taking away something from people?”

Decriminalizing border crossings

On immigration, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro challenged the rest of the candidates to commit to repealing Sec. 1325 of the US Code, which makes it a criminal offence for migrants improperly entering the US.

When former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke tried to pivot to just addressing asylum seekers, Castro snapped at the former Senate candidate and reiterated his demand to allow unrestricted border crossings, with the exception of smugglers, human traffickers, and the like.

“I think that you should do your homework on this issue,” Castro told O’Rourke. “If you did your homework on this issue, you would know that we should repeal this section.”

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota tried to distance herself from Castro’s position but added she would be “happy to look at his proposal.”

“But I do think you want to make sure that you have provisions in place that allow you to go after traffickers and allow you to go after people who are violating the law,” she said.

Thursday night’s debate will feature 10 more candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has delivered impassioned speeches about advancing socialism, and several others on the left wing of the Democratic Party.

But the second debate lineup also features a few moderates in former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Vice President Joe Biden. Whether they break from the pack could shape the tone of the debate.