The big question the 1st Democratic debate answered

Posted at 5:30 PM, Jun 28, 2019

You can debate about who did the best — and worst — in the first Democratic presidential debate, which was spread out over two nights this week in Miami. (Trust me, I did just that; here are my winners and losers for the first and second nights.)

But what the first debate of the 2020 campaign season proved — beyond the shadow of a doubt — is that people are VERY interested in the race to face President Donald Trump.

Thursday night’s debate featuring some of the brighter stars in the race — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris — drew 18.1 million viewers, making it the highest-rated Democratic presidential debate in history. More than 15 million people watched Wednesday night’s debate, which, aside from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, lacked the star power of the second night.

While those numbers don’t reach the heights of the first Republican 2016 debate, when 24 million people watched Trump make his debate stage debut, they are far higher than most estimates — mine included.

What does that tell us? That people are engaged and interested in politics — even with almost 18 months left before the 2020 general election. It’s hard to attribute that level of interest to anything other than the current resident of the White House.

Like him or hate him, Trump has created a level of engagement in politics that we simply have not seen in decades. People who may have only loosely followed politics prior to Trump are now watching cable TV religiously (bless you — each and every one of you). The stakes have been raised by Trump.

There were questions coming into this first debate as to whether some of that energy had worn off after the first few years of Trump’s presidency. The ratings suggest otherwise. People are watching — and in record numbers.

The Point: If 18 million people watch a Thursday night debate in the middle of the summer with 10 candidates onstage, how many might watch an October debate when a) actual primary votes are only a few months away and b) the field has slimmed to only candidates with real chances at the nomination?

Below, the week in 29 headlines:






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