Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s inability to explain how she’d pay for Medicare-for-all, Andrew Yang’s takedown of Microsoft’s Bing, Sen. Cory Booker’s interruption — many of the viral moments that came out of Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate were due to direct questions by New York Times national editor Marc Lacey.
With the Times cohosting the debate along with CNN, Lacey was literally called on to moderate his first national television debate alongside TV veterans Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett. What Lacey lacked in broadcast experience he more than made up for with the direct questioning that served him well as reporter and editor for the Times, where he’s worked for more than 20 years.
Early in the debate, Lacey bluntly asked Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren if she would “raise taxes on the middle classes” to pay for her Medicare-for-all plan. Not only did Warren avoid answering the question directly, she also danced around two follow-up questions Lacey had on the issue, leading South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to slam her evasiveness.
“Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything,” Buttigieg said. “Except this.”
One funny moment came when Lacey asked businessman Andrew Yang if he would breakup big tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Yang, who ditched the American flag in favor of a “MATH” lapel pin, took the question in an unpredictable direction — dunking on Microsoft’s often-mocked search engine.
“There’s a reason no one is using Bing today,” Yang said, drawing a surprising amount of scorn from the audience. “Sorry Microsoft, it’s true.”
Lacey also had to fend off an interruption by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who was upset over debate questions Joe Biden faced about his son, Hunter, and whether it was appropriate for him to work for a foreign company while his father was vice president.
“I’m worried you’re giving the impression of a false equivalency here to move on,” Booker said as Lacey attempted to ask a question. “It is wrong to move on.”
It was a moment Booker returned to during his next question, where he also vented a little bit about his lack of screen time.
“We are literally using Donald Trump’s lies. And the second issue we cover is elevating a lie, and attacking a statesman! That was so offensive!” Booker complained. “And the only person sitting at home that was enjoying that was Donald Trump — seeing that we’re distracting from his malfeasance, and the selling out of his office.”
Tuesday’s debate was the second hosted this election cycle by CNN, and the network made a wise decision to ditch the action movie-style trailers it was mocked for airing the first time around. CNN and the Times also deserve credit for ably handing a stage featuring 12 candidates, the most in debate history, according to political historians.
But moderators couldn’t find time during the three-hour debate to ask a single question about China, immigration, or climate change. CNN and the Times also ended the night on a weak note, tossing candidates a layup about Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush friendship as the debate’s final question. Former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro was among those to blast the moment on Twitter.