It was a rough-and-tumble welcome in the arena for a candidate who has gamely sidestepped attacks in previous debates. But at the CNN/New York Times debate Tuesday night in the crucial swing state of Ohio, the Massachusetts senator was constantly on defense driving her central argument that Democrats must “dream big” and “fight hard.” All the fire sent in Warren’s direction at Otterbein University underscored a marked shift in the Democratic race that has been underway for many weeks: while former Vice President Joe Biden
has remained strong in the polls, the other candidates in the race clearly now see Warren as the real competition.
It was one of the first times Warren had to face a barrage of critiques from her Democratic competitors, navigating many of the critical comments usually aimed toward Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
It was the moderates in the race who targeted the newly minted front-runner the most. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg set that aggressive tone from the opening moments of the debate as he sought to seize the centrist lane within the Democratic field. Challenging Warren on her refusal to answer a yes-or-no questions about whether her plan would lead to tax hikes from the middle class, he said her evasiveness embodied the very reason why Americans are so frustrated with Washington.
“Your signature is to have a plan for everything, except this,” Buttigieg said to Warren. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion dollar hole in this plan that Sen. Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.”
In a strong performance, Buttigieg repeatedly argued that Democrats would not be able to sell some of Warren’s more liberal ideas — namely “Medicare for All” — to the broader universe of voters that the party must sway to win the White House.
“I don’t understand why you believe the only way to deliver affordable coverage is to obliterate private plans,” Buttigieg said to Warren. “We’re competing to be president for the day after Trump. Our country will be polarized, more than now. After everything we have been through, after everything we are about to go through, this country will be more divided. Why divide this country over health care when there’s a better way to deliver coverage for all?”
Warren did not back down, but at times seemed surprised by the force of the attacks against her — even from the normally mild-mannered former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke who accused her of embracing a philosophy that was punitive.
“Look, I understand that this is hard, but I think as Democrats we are going to succeed when we dream big and fight hard, not when we dream small and quit before we get started,” she said.
Buttigieg’s arguments were often amplified by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who also leaned heavily on her Midwestern roots to argue that Warren and Sanders have driven the party too far to the left. In one tense exchange, the Minnesota senator referred to “Medicare for All” — a proposal that was crafted by Sanders and endorsed by Warren — as a “pipe-dream.”
“The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done,” Klobuchar said.
“At least Bernie is being honest here and saying how he’s going to pay for this — and that taxes are going to go up,” she added. “We owe it to the American people to tell them where we will send the invoice.”
At another point Warren was repeatedly badgered by California Sen. Kamala Harris, who tried to force her into agreeing with Harris’s proposal that Trump should be thrown off Twitter. It was then that Warren showed a touch of exasperation.
“Look, I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter, I want to push him out of the White House,” Warren said.