The second night of the first 2020 Democratic debates in Miami lived up to its billing. With four of the top five candidates onstage, the contenders scraped it up, diving for loose balls, and throwing elbows. The debate created stinging exchanges — some of which will leave lasting marks.
Mixing steeliness with emotional connection, Kamala Harris came away a clear victor of the second debate — and perhaps of the two debates put together. But several other candidates showed sizzle, including surprising upstart Eric Swalwell, who flashed energy and competence in challenging storied candidates nearly twice his age.
Below, we highlight seven memorable dunks from the second night in South Florida:
1) When Kamala dunked on nine opponents at once
Early in the contest, during a heated question about education, seemingly eight or nine candidates started shouting simultaneously, the debate moderators had lost control, and the second debate was in danger of degenerating into a shitshow. Then out of nowhere, Harris soared in for a dunk in traffic:
“Hey, guys, you know what?,” she asked, quieting the stage. “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table.”
In a debate light on levity, the laugh line brought down the house.
WATCH: "You know what? America does not want to witness a food fight," Sen. Kamala Harris said during Thursday's #DemDebate2. "They want to know how we're going to put food on their table." pic.twitter.com/Gw5LrrSNha
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) June 28, 2019
2) When Swalwell dunked on Joe Biden over generational turnover
Swalwell, a 38-year-old congressman from California, showed he belonged on the big stage. Talking about the need to prepare our children for the future, Swalwell rocked the crowd to sleep with what seemed like an anodyne vignette from his childhood, but then exploded to the rim, dunking on the former vice president.
“I was 6 years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans,” he said. “That candidate was then-senator Joe Biden.”
“Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago,” Swalwell added. “He is still right today.”
Biden smiled, and shook his head, and seemed like he might salvage the moment. But his lame comeback only underscored how badly he’d just been posterized: “I’m still holding on to that torch,” he said.
Democratic Presidential Candidate, Eric Swalwell, uses Joe Biden's own words against him to say he should 'pass the torch’ to the next generation of Americans. pic.twitter.com/Vye1YP5YDe
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) June 28, 2019
3) When Rachel Maddow dunked on Bernie Sanders with his own words
Buttigieg wasn’t the only Rhodes Scholar in the room on Thursday night, and moderator Rachel Maddow demonstrated agility and quickness in throwing down a put-back jam on Bernie Sanders.
The transcript captures the moment well:
MADDOW: Senator Sanders, a Vermont newspaper recently released portions of an interview you gave in 2013 in which you said: “My own view on guns is, everything being equal, states should make those decisions.”
MADDOW: Has your thinking changed since then? Do you now think there is a federal role to play?
SANDERS: No, that’s a mischaracterization of my thinking.
MADDOW: It’s a quote of you.
4) When Buttigieg dunked on the religious right
On a night when Democrats were attacking each other, Buttigieg showboated with a highlight-reel jam on an opponent not even in the room — the religious right.
During a discussion of immigration and the Trump administration’s abuses on the border, Buttigieg made his move:
“The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion. Now, our party doesn’t talk about that as much,” he conceded, “but we should call out hypocrisy when we see it. And for a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that it is OK to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”
"We should call out hypocrisy when we see it." @PeteButtigieg speaks out against the GOP, saying the party likes to "cloak itself" in the language of religion, and yet supports the detention of migrant children #DemDebate https://t.co/El0w0XUXhE pic.twitter.com/GniDb2CheW
— Bloomberg (@business) June 28, 2019
5) When Michael Bennet dunked on Biden over the Bush tax cuts
Michael Bennet did not shine during the Miami debate. His vibe was alternately sleepy and patrician. He dropped the word “mercantilist” into one of his answers on trade. But the Colorado Democrat did have one memorable exchange with the former vice president. After Biden bragged that he’d made Mitch McConnell accept tax increases as part of a budget negotiation (that actually just let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest), Bennet grabbed the ball and went coast-to-coast for a jam.
BIDEN: I got Mitch McConnell to raise taxes $600 billion by raising the top rate.
BENNET: … The deal that he talked about with Mitch McConnell was a complete victory for the Tea Party. It extended the Bush tax cuts permanently. The Democratic Party had been running against that for 10 years.
We lost that economic argument, because that deal extended almost all those Bush tax cuts permanently and put in place the mindless cuts that we still are dealing with today that are called the sequester. That was a great deal for Mitch McConnell.
BIDEN: Oh, come on.
BENNET: It was a terrible deal for America.
6) When Harris dunked on Biden over his record on race
In what will be remembered as the pivotal moment in the debate, Harris broke down Biden over his recent praise of the “civility” of ardent segregationist former senators, as well as his opposition to forced bussing as a means to the integrate America’s schools. While prefacing her comments by saying, “I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris called Biden’s remarks about his former Deep South senate colleagues “hurtful” before underscoring that he’d “worked with them to oppose busing” — an issue personal to her experience as a black child who had been bussed.
Instead of taking his licks, or apologizing for the hurt he’d caused, Biden bit back saying Harris. He blasted what he called her “mischaracterization” of his record, before trying out a Kamala-is-a-Cop attack in intended to highlight his more high-minded public service: “I was a public defender,” he said. “I didn’t become a prosecutor.”
As the exchanged escalated, Biden insisted he didn’t oppose all bussing, just bussing mandated over the opposition of local government.
Harris then hammered one down:
HARRIS: That’s where the federal government must step in.
BIDEN: The federal government…
HARRIS: That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA, because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.
The full exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on Biden’s history with racial issues. pic.twitter.com/sK950pFyvf
— Axios (@axios) June 28, 2019
7) When Marianne Williamson dunked on herself
In a debate stocked with Democrats who agree on most issues, and whose soundbites could at times be interchangeable, self-help guru and author Marianne Williamson stood the far left of the stage and sounded like she was living on her own planet. “I have had a career not making the political plans,” she intoned, “but I have had a career harnessing the inspiration and the motivation and the excitement of people, masses of people.”
Williamson, 66, then tried to make a point about the importance of forward thinking. “The fact that somebody has a younger body doesn’t mean you don’t have old ideas,” she said. Ironically, Williamson then invoked John Kennedy’s speech envisioning sending an American to the moon — delivered 53 years ago, when Kamala Harris was in diapers — an address that kickstarted a lunar-landing program that ended in 1972, years before Andrew Yang, Swalwell, or Buttiegeg were even born.
“John Kennedy was back in the day when politics included the people,” Williamson added, seemingly riding a moonbeam of nostalgia, “and included imagination and included great dreams and included great plans.”