The greatest problem facing the U.S., according to the Democratic presidential candidates who appeared at their first debate Wednesday night, is the power of large corporations.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and her colleagues assured us that it is big business that is to blame for gun violence, drug addiction, mass incarceration, inadequate health care, illegal immigration and the plight of working people.

The Democratic presidential hopefuls want to raise taxes on corporations, break them up and rein them in.


Warren’s most passionate moment of the evening came when she interrupted to claim that health insurance companies were “sucking” $23 billion in profit out of the health care system. She’s not the only one singing that tune. 

Winning the Democratic nomination in 2020 apparently requires convincing voters you can defeat President Trump, that you are 100 percent committed to addressing climate change,  and that you are more than ready to go toe-to-toe with nefarious corporate interests.

Interestingly, math does not seem to be a prerequisite.

Not one candidate was pressed by the evening’s left-leaning moderators to explain how they would pay for the generous programs they all endorse. There was not a word about the cost of the Democratic free-for-all (free college, free health care, and more) that we’ve heard so much about.

So who came out best at the end of the night?

Warren sailed confidently into the first round of the debates with fresh polling and a growing media lovefest providing brisk winds at her back. Surprisingly, however, it was another woman on that debate stage whose performance may deliver her campaign a significant uptick: Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Klobuchar appeared the most measured and the most reasonable. She framed most issues in terms of their impact on the economy.

Every single one wants zero restrictions on abortion, supports a $15 minimum wage, welcomes illegal immigrants with open arms, would hike taxes on American businesses and on successful individuals and hates – just hates – everything about the Trump administration.

When asked why blacks and Hispanics might vote for her, for instance, Klobuchar talked about her focus on jobs and creating opportunity. That was a nice contrast to the approach taken by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Castro, O’Rourke and Booker oddly started speaking Spanish from time to time, perhaps to appeal to Latino voters. That seemed appropriate from Castro, but from O’Rourke and Booker it appeared singularly inauthentic.

Klobuchar, when confronted by Castro’s determination that we should no longer detain illegal immigrants crossing the border, did not go for the bait. She responded that she thinks we need to go after drug traffickers and other criminals. Good for her.

Klobuchar also looked sane by comparison when she suggested she had qualms about providing rich kids with free college.

In her closing statement, Klobuchar made a simple pitch, saying that “I listen and get things done.” She talked of getting numerous bills passed, and winning every election race she has entered. Viewers could understand why.

Booker get a lot of air time during the debate, but offered up uninspired ideas with great conviction. His closing statement was utter soft serve, affirming he could beat Trump, and that the election would be a referendum on “us.”

Other candidates pressed their personal credentials. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii managed to inject her military experience into her responses, while former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland touted his entrepreneurial background – which was indeed differentiating, as was his moderately pro-business platform.

Warren showed a glimpse of the passion that is boosting her poll numbers but seemed oddly subdued. She trotted out her standard lines about making the government and the economy work for everyone, but she failed to light up the audience. Her promises to fight for everyone become tiresome, mainly because she also wants to fight with everyone.

Warren got less air time as the evening wore on, in part because New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other 1 percenters tried to hijack the conversation, striving for a breakthrough moment. They mostly failed.

The evening produced no witticisms, no light moments; it was a deadly serious affair. It will be interesting to see what the ratings look like.

Warren was expected to shine at the first debate, in large part because she faced off against a number of lesser-known candidates (including Castro, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington).

Expectations were also high for Warren because she’s a policy wonk and, according to a New York Times piece that dropped Tuesday, has been a skilled debater since childhood. She did not hurt herself, but neither did she triumph.

One problem for the debate sponsors – and for the lesser-known candidates – is that there are so many litmus tests for Democrats. Uniformity makes it tough to stand out or attract ratings.

Practically every contender has felt compelled to sign on to the Green New Deal – or like Inslee, adopt an even more extreme position.

Every single one wants zero restrictions on abortion, supports a $15 minimum wage, welcomes illegal immigrants with open arms, would hike taxes on American businesses and on successful individuals and hates – just hates – everything about the Trump administration.

Every candidate wants to woo back traditional Democrats who voted for Trump in 2016, but it seems not one knows how to go about doing that.

Delaney made a valiant effort to present a comparatively moderate approach; he was the outlier. Few Democrats talk about growing the country’s wealth and income; rather, their focus is on how to carve up the wealth and income we already have.


As de Blasio has so frequently said, “There’s plenty of money in the country, it’s just in the wrong hands.”

Based on the first round of the Democratic debates, that could become the party’s slogan. Who knows, maybe it will.