The 9 Most Memorable Moments of the Democratic Debates

When you have a full twenty candidates debating each other over the course of two nights, including multiple women, multiple people of color and a self-help guru for the first time, there are bound to be some memorable moments. 

The first Democratic primary debates didn’t disappoint. Night two was the most-watched primary debate in the history of the Party. Several middling candidates broke out of the pack, a few white men were knocked down a peg, and Marianne Williamson promised to pick a fight with New Zealand. 

Here’s a rundown of what happened, in case you missed it. 

Kamala Harris called out Joe Biden.

California Senator Kamala Harris, who had been polling well below former Vice President Joe Biden, arguably won the second-night debate when she confronted him about what she called “hurtful” things he’s said and done on racial justice throughout his career. 

“As the only black person on this stage, I’d like to address the issue of race,” she announced, before launching into a blistering critique of Biden’s record that left many people slack-jawed — and impressed. Read more about it here.

Julian Castro broke out of the pack. 

Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who entered the debate as a middling candidate with unfavorable chances, turned out to be the biggest surprise on night one, delivering a passionate and charismatic performance that may have catapulted him into the top tier. 

He was especially sharp when talking about immigration, and he captured the sentiment of much of the nation with his comments on the horrifying image that’s circulating of a migrant man and his toddler daughter who drowned on their journey. "Watching that image of Óscar and his daughter, Valeria, is heartbreaking,” Castro said. “It should also piss us all off.” 

Search interest for Castro on Google surged more than 2,400 percent on Wednesday — probably a good sign for him. 

VIDEO: 'I said what I meant, it was hurtful' – Kamala Harris on Jab at Biden

Elizabeth Warren had a strong performance, despite her unlucky draw.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered a very strong performance on night one that cemented her status as the woman to beat. She was clear, smart, consistent and prepared.

She was disadvantaged, though, by the debate draw. Warren was the only top-tier candidate who was scheduled for night one, and 15 to 20 percent more households tuned into the second night, which was the highest-rated Democratic primary debate in history. 

A man tried to claim responsibility for reproductive rights — and Amy Klobuchar wasn’t having it.

Wednesday night’s debate was the first ever to feature multiple female candidates on stage, but it was a man who tried to take credit for leading the fight on reproductive rights. Washington Governor Jay Inslee said he’s the only candidate who’s “advanced the ball” on abortion rights, prompting Klobuchar to put him in his place. 

“I just want to say, there are three women up here who fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose,” she fired back, drawing big applause. A uniquely 2019 moment. 

Marianne Williamson was on another planet. 

Marianne Williamson, a self-help author, Oprah’s spiritual guide, and one-time Laura Dern roommate really brought the kookiness on Thursday night. Speaking in an accent that no one could quite locate, she emphasized abstract concepts like “love” over policy solutions, declaring the latter to be “superficial.” 

The candidates were then asked, lightning-round style, to say the first thing they’d do as president. And her answer was truly mystifying.

“My first call is to the prime minister of New Zealand who said that her goal is to make New Zealand the best place in the world for a child to grow up," Williamson said. “And I will tell her 'Girlfriend, you are so on, because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up." Okay!

Andrew Yang promised $1,000 a month to everyone. 

Yang, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, wants to give a “Freedom Dividend” to every person over the age of 18 that amounts to $1,000 a month. How would he pay for it? Something about taxes on Amazon and eliminating food stamps.

This is not going to happen. 

Beto O’Rourke answered in Spanish.

The former Texas congressman — a white man with a Hispanic nickname — unexpectedly transitioned from English to Spanish during his first debate answer. The move earned mixed reviews, but the reactions of the candidates standing next to him spoke volumes. 

Bernie Sanders refused to pick just one problem with America. 

When debate moderator Chuck Todd asked the Vermont senator to name the first issue he’d tackle as president, Bernie did a very Bernie thing and refused. His presidential platform, essentially, being: throw out the whole thing and start over.

“First thing, I reject the premise that there is only one or two issues out there,” he said. “This country faces enormous crises. We need a political revolution. People have got to stand up and take on the special interests. We can transform this country.” 

Pete Buttigieg called out Republicans’ hypocrisy on religion. 

Mayor Pete’s best moment on Thursday night was a riff on the religious hypocrisy of Republicans. He cited the family separations and deplorable conditions at the border, but the subtext was a point about conservatives having a problem with him being gay. 

“The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion,” Buttigieg said. “We should call hypocrisy, and for a party that associates with Christianity to say it is okay 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 religion language again.”

His comments drew big cheers from the audience. 

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