Last night, 10 Democratic candidates took the stage in Miami, Florida for the first of two nights of the Democratic National Committee’s first primary debate.
One of the most consequential takeaways from Wednesday's debate is that there are two competing factions in the Democratic Party – the center-left, moderate candidates versus the progressive, far-left candidates – that are fighting for the soul of the party.
To be sure, the progressive and moderate candidates disagree on a range of fundamental issues, ranging from health care to the economy to college tuition.
Wednesday night, we observed progressive candidates especially Warren, who supports "Medicare-for-all," clash with moderate candidates like Klobuchar, who favors an incremental approach whereby public health care is expanded, but private insurance is not eliminated.
Warren, who has surged in national polls recently, was the clear progressive stand-out in Wednesday's debate. Drawing loud cheers from the crowd, Warren reiterated her strong support for “Medicare-for-all,” the leftist progressive proposal to rewrite the nation's health care system with a single-payer program.
“I’m with Bernie [Sanders] on "Medicare-for-all," Warren said. “Look at the business model of an insurance company. It’s to bring in as many dollars as they can in premiums, and to pay out as few dollars as possible for your health care.”
To be sure, we can also expect this inner-party divide to manifest in Thursday's debate when former vice president and current frontrunner Joe Biden takes the stage alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, as well as progressive California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Former Vice President Biden stands out as one of the more moderate candidates in a notably progressive Democratic field and has the challenge of appealing to an increasingly liberal electorate while also fending off criticism from his progressive contenders.
It didn’t matter that Biden wasn’t in the room last night, as it is clear that nearly all of the candidates are seeking to cut into Biden’s polling lead, which now tops double-digits in nearly every national poll.
Ultimately, the former vice president should not allow himself to get bogged down by attacks from his primary contenders and should instead speak to his larger point of how he can unite the country so that the Democratic Party is able to beat Donald Trump in 2020.
Though nearly every one of Biden’s Democratic contenders is actively running against him, he has thus far used his frontrunner status to run a presidential-level campaign and has largely streamlined his focus to the general election. Biden rarely, if at all, responds to attacks from other Democratic contenders, and has focused much of his energy on developing a center-left narrative that is a convincing alternative to President Trump’s.
While Biden will not be able to directly ignore the scrutiny he receives Thursday night, he would be wise to stay above the noise from the far-left and focus on making a compelling case for why he will be the most effective commander in chief.
To do so, he will need to stay focused on the issues that matter to voters. Immigration, health care, and pro-growth economic policies are and will continue to be, the driving force for both the Democratic and general electorate.
With regard to immigration in particular, Biden will be able to distinguish himself from other Democratic candidates, especially from those in Wednesday's debate, several of whom agreed that it should not be a crime to cross the border illegally, indicating that few candidates in this crowded field possess the same policy solutions or effective alternatives to President Trump that Biden does.
Indeed, immigration will be one issue where Biden can and should tout his record of legislative accomplishments, as well as his ability to work across the aisle to achieve meaningful reforms.
Finally, and fundamentally, the former vice president will need to project an inclusive and unifying message of civility and must not allow himself to get bogged down over the far-left issues that the other primary candidates are in-fighting over.
If Biden is able to effectively communicate solutions to core issues, promote a theme of unity, and not allow the scrutiny he will face to distract him, he can emerge from this debate with his lead still intact.