President Donald Trump was back on stage night two of the Democratic debate, as several of the candidates with the strongest shots to take on Trump in the general election launched harsh attacks on the president from the get-go.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the 2020 race’s current de facto front-runner, mentioned Trump’s name three times in his brief opening answer: “Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America,” declared Biden. “Donald Trump has put us in a horrible situation,” he thundered, moments later.
And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), runner-up to Biden in most state and national polls, told moderators that he was beating Trump in several polls by double digits—“because the American people understand that Trump is a phony, that Trump is a pathological liar, and a racist, and that he lied to the American people during his campaign… That’s how we beat Trump. We expose him for the fraud that he is.”
Unlike on the first night of debates, the candidates on stage Thursday moved quickly to tie the GOP’s tax cut plan—which passed in 2017 and has struggled to gain public popularity ever since—to the president. Asked by the moderator if Democrats “have a responsibility to explain how they will pay for” their ambitious proposals and reforms, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) shot back, “Where was that question when the Republicans and Donald Trump passed a tax bill that benefits the top 1 percent and the biggest corporations?” She vowed that “on Day 1, I will repeal that tax bill that benefits the top 1 percent and the biggest corporations in America.”
Later in the debate’s first hour, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) invoked his family history — his mother survived the Holocaust before emigrating to the U.S. — to take the first hit against Trump’s immigration policy and his “medieval wall.”
“The president has turned the border of the United States into a symbol of nativist hostility that the whole world is looking at,” Bennet said, “and what we should be represented by is the Statue of Liberty that brought my parents to this country to begin with.”
The tactic reflects a growing sentiment in the Democratic primary electorate that the eventual nominee must be able to take on Trump and win.
The president figures differently into each candidate’s pitch, however. Biden has staked his candidacy on the argument that he would beat Trump in the general election by besting him in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. To the Sanders camp, meanwhile, it’s the democratic socialist’s left-wing ideas and movement of dedicated followers that will galvanize the party base to turn out, drawing a contrast to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
—With additional reporting by Asawin Suebsaeng