TEN Democrats squared off in the first US presidential TV debate – but the clash was marred by tech issues and branded “BORING” by Donald Trump.
The candidates tussled over the economy and healthcare on a Miami stage on Wednesday night, with 10 more appearing on Thursday.
As the night’s highest-polling candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren took centre stage and demanded a “structural change” in the economy.
But as soon as the first primary debate of the 2020 election season got underway, Trump made his feelings clear, tweeting: “BORING!”
Trump’s campaign later issued a statement, branding the debate a “mutual political suicide pact”.
The second hour of the debate was derailed by technical difficulties, with NBC forced to cut to an advert break.
The network suffered audio issues during moderator Chuck Todd’s remarks, with the candidates on stage unable to hear his question.
After the unscheduled ad break, Todd, appearing next to Rachel Maddow, admitted the network had suffered “technical difficulties” before vowing to march on.
Trump blasted the network, saying: “NBCNews and MSNBC should be ashamed of themselves for having such a horrible technical breakdown in the middle of the debate.
“Truly unprofessional and only worthy of a FAKE NEWS Organization, which they are!”
The debate marked a new phase in the 2020 presidential season as Democrats seek to break out from the crowded field.
Warren raised her hand as one of the only Democratic presidential contenders willing to abolish her own private health insurance in favour of a government-run plan.
Her position highlighted a rift within her party’s most ambitious contenders over how to approach inequality in America.
FIGHT CLUB Candidates in Wednesday’s debate (as they appeared from left to right)
Bill de Blasio – New York mayor
Tim Ryan – Ohio Congressman
Julian Castro – former HUD secretary
Cory Booker – New Jersey senator
Elizabeth Warren – Massachusetts senator
Beto O’Rourke – former-Texas Congressman
Amy Klobuchar – Minnesota senator
Tulsi Gabbard – Hawaii Congresswoman
Jay Inslee – Washington governor
John Delaney – former Maryland Congressman
While the candidates have been courting voters in key states for several months already, the vast majority of the nation has yet to pay close attention to the diverse field.
Most of Warren’s rivals Wednesday night, including former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, called for universal health care, but also favoured preserving the private insurance market.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who will be in a second debate group Thursday night, has proposed a “Medicare for All” system without private insurance, and Warren said she agreed with him.
No one on stage attacked Warren by name in the early minutes of a largely civil debate in which most of the candidates leaned into their party’s focus on class warfare.
“I think of it this way. Who is this economy really working for? It’s doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top,” Warren declared.
“That is corruption pure and simple … and we need to make structural change.”
One of the few voices for the moderate wing of the Democratic Party on stage, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, pushed back: “We should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken,” he said. “Why do we have to stand for taking away something from people.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who joined Warren in raising his hand on health insurance, cast the debate as part of “the battle for the heart and soul of our party.”
Democrats are unified in their deep desire to beat Trump but divided on what kind of candidate is best positioned to do so.
The first hour of the debate passed with hardly a mention of the man the 10 candidates on stage hope to face next November.
It was 16 minutes into the debate before Trump’s name was uttered by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who briefly referenced him again as the debate headed into its second hour.
Responding to a question about US tensions with Iran, Klobuchar said, “I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5 in the morning.”
Other candidates invoked the president’s name in making their arguments on immigration.
Trump was en route to Japan for the G-20 summit as the two-night event got underway.
The overall field is so large that a second group of 10 Democrats, led by early front-runner Joe Biden, are to debate 24 hours later.
The groupings were chosen at random by debate host NBC.