Debates 2020

Elizabeth Warren's Polished Progressivism Dominated the First Democratic Debate

The Massachusetts senator pandered to the left—and so did everybody else, just not as expertly.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) spent the first half of Wednesday night's debate serving up progressive policy proposals and populist rhetoric—the economy is working for the wealthy but not for everyone else, the government should spend more money on free education and healthcare, gun violence is a national health emergency—and then faded into the background after the moderators mostly focused on other candidates.

Still, it was a great showing for the surging candidate, mostly because the other candidates also pandered to the left—they just didn't sound as polished.

Moderator Chuck Todd gave Warren a massive assist when he noted that she has "a lot of ambitious plans." Warren's response: "I do."

Other moderators gave Warren's rivals plenty of chances to ding her for supporting expensive, impractical, and politically unfeasible policies—Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) was explicitly positioned as a foil to Warren-style progressivism—but the candidates mostly sidestepped these opportunities, as if they feared alienating the wokest of the woke.

In her opening remarks, Warren promised to "attack head-on" and "make structural change" to an economic system she has deemed unjust.

"Who is this economy really working for?" she said. "It's doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top. It's doing great for giant drug companies. It's just not doing great for people who are trying to get a prescription filled. It's doing great for people who want to invest in private prisons, just not for the African Americans and Latinx whose families are torn apart, whose lives are destroyed, and whose communities are ruined. It's doing great for giant oil companies that want to drill everywhere, just not for the rest of us who are watching climate change bear down upon us."

And in her closing remarks, Warren focused on how she owes her success to a government program.

"I got my chance: It was a $50 a semester community college," she said. "That was a little slice of government that created an opportunity. I believe we can make our government, our economy, and our country work for everyone, and I promise you this, I will fight for you as hard as I fight for my own family."

They were comments that clearly resonated with the audience, and with left-of-center pundits on social media. Whether they resonate with primary voters remains to be seen. Warren's main competitors for the nomination—former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) will be on the debate stage tomorrow night.