Democratic candidates convened in Detroit last night for the first of two rounds of presidential debates. There are still more than two dozen individuals seeking the right to challenge President Trump next year, and an additional 10 candidates will take the stage this evening for Round 2.
Viewers did not have to wait long for the philosophical divisions within the party to emerge. Four of the first five candidates focused their opening statements on the need to promote policies that would appeal to moderate voters. They rejected the Medicare for All proposals promulgated by Senators Sanders and Warren, opting instead for a public option to supplement private insurance. They highlighted the need for pragmatism and emphasized ‘bread and butter’ issues such as higher wages and infrastructure investment.
Not surprisingly, Senators Sanders and Warren rejected this approach. They appeared to chastise their more conservative colleagues, arguing instead for a provocative policy platform that focuses on reducing income inequality and dramatically altering the nation’s existing system of health delivery. The two senators are among the frontrunners for the Democratic Party nomination, and neither shied away from making the case for a more progressive policy platform. Meanwhile, Mayor Buttigieg and former US Rep. O'Rourke managed to occupy the middle ground, avoiding taking sides in what amounted to a pitched philosophical battle between the two leading candidates and the rest of the field.
While discussions among the candidates covered a lot of policy ground, health care was far and away the most prominent topic, consuming almost half of the time allocated for debate. Immigration also received considerable attention, with the president casting a long shadow on that subject. While the candidates appeared to be more aligned on this issue than on some others, decriminalization of border violations was an area of some disagreement.
While many of the candidates reverted to the customary gambit of conveying human interest stories, the debate moderators rarely allowed them enough time to finish. The net effect was a policy-rich discussion of major issues. By and large, while the candidates focused their vitriol on President Trump, they generally avoided personal attacks on their colleagues. The decorum exhibited by the candidates, so much in evidence last night, is unlikely to last indefinitely. As the size of the field is reduced in the coming months, the policy divisions within the party are likely to become more pronounced and will trigger animated and heated arguments.
Thomas McLoughlin, Head Americas Fixed Income, UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS FS)