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Is There Anything You’re Actually Hoping to Get From Tonight’s Debate?


The stage is prepared for a Democratic presidential debate

Yup, it’s that time again. Time for yet another Democratic debate.

First, some logistics. Tonight’s debate is taking place in Des Moines, Iowa and will start at 9pm Eastern. It’s scheduled to last about two hours and will be co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register, so you can stream it on either outlet’s website (without being required to log in to a cable provider) or on CNN via cable TV or any of their apps.

Here’s who will be on the stage: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Tom Steyer. That’s the smallest (and whitest) group of candidates to take the stage yet, in the final debate before the Iowa caucuses on February 3rd.

This is the seventh Democratic debate of the 2020 primary but also the ninth, since the first two were split over two nights and a thousand hours (or so it felt) each. And at this point, what are we hoping to get from them?

Back in September of 2019, The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote about how unfulfilling the debates are for basically everyone involved.

Pretty much everyone says they hate the Democratic presidential debates. The candidates hate them. The campaigns hate them. The reporters hate them. The staff of the Democratic National Committee, which is responsible for putting them on, hates them too. On top of all that, viewership is dropping: from 18 million in June to 14 million in September.

I don’t think anything’s changed since then. The last debate, which featured everyone listed above plus Andrew Yang, got the closest to being an actual debate, with candidates actually responding to one another and moving beyond the canned one-liners and over-rehearsed elevator stump speeches.

That was largely due to the number of candidates, which had been cut in half since the first debate. But those cuts have also cost us. The once-historically diverse debate stage will be filled tonight with an entirely white group of candidates, which is something that the moderators will absolutely have to address. (Update: *Narrator’s voice*: They did not address it.) It’s unfortunate that the only responses we’ll get will be from white candidates.

Other topics we’re almost guaranteed to hear about: impeachment, Iran, and probably Trump’s tweets about both. Warren and Sanders will probably be asked or at least find a way to talk about the escalating feud between their campaigns and supporters.

Is there anything else you’re hoping or expecting to hear come up? Obviously, we need more questions about reproductive justice, housing, climate change, and we can never talk too much about the Trump administration’s inhumane immigration policies. But also how much does it matter if we can’t crack through the real substantive discussions we need to be having? (And which are happening, to be fair to the candidates, just not in this format.)

Will you be watching? What would you like to hear and see from the debate stage tonight?

(image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.