Debate Night: The ‘On Politics’ Breakdown


Hi, and welcome to a special post-debate edition of On Politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

Raise your hand if you knew John Delaney was running for president before last night’s debate.

Oh, Mrs. Delaney, thanks for reading!

The former Maryland congressman may not end up as our next president. But it sure seemed like he was cast in the role of Joe Biden on Tuesday.

In a debate that went deep on substance, beginning with a detailed discussion of health care, Mr. Delaney became a favorite punching bag of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. When he questioned the “Medicare for all” proposal, Mr. Sanders shot back: “You’re wrong.”

For Ms. Warren, Mr. Delaney’s criticism led to one of the most memorable lines of the night: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” she said, firing back at his charges that her ideas were unrealistic.

One other notable nugget: Marianne Williamson. After her appearance in the first set of debates, Ms. Williamson was widely mocked. Republicans even started a campaign to keep her in the debate. Fewer are laughing after her second showing. The author and spiritual adviser delivered a sharp answer on reparations, putting a specific price tag on an issue that the rest of the field would prefer to talk about in generalities.

Yes, she still warned of “dark psychic forces” in politics. Yes, she still promised “radical truth-telling.” But in her quest to be taken seriously as a political candidate, Ms. Williamson was no longer relegated to the comic relief of the evening.

Speaking of comic relief, I love this little monkey. May it be the first of many gifs that come out of tonight’s debate.



My colleague Reid Epstein found Charles Barkley in the corner of the spin room. It was the basketball Hall of Famer’s first political debate, but Mr. Barkley is no stranger to television, having spent 19 seasons on TNT’s NBA halftime and postgame shows.

REID: Why are you here?

BARKLEY: I came here to see Julián Castro and Pete Buttigieg. Those are the two guys I like the most, so I came to see both of them in person. I think Mayor Pete was fantastic tonight and I’m really looking forward to seeing Julián tomorrow.

It’s hard to judge these things because they don’t really get a chance to say anything, to be honest with you. You never get to explain anything, that would be the best way to say it. You can say, ‘I want to get rid of all college debt, I want to do Medicare for all.’ Those sound great, but you got to do a little bit more than that in how you’re going to pay for it.


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