In part one of the Democratic Party’s first primary debates, the candidates did not go deep on substance.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates see abortion as a winning issue in the next election. That was clear from the first night of the party’s primary debates, where the politicians onstage vied to show how emphatically they support abortion rights. The candidates focused on fear: of the state-level abortion bans recently passed in places such as Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia; of the threat to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. Multiple candidates affirmed their support for expansive abortion rights, citing widespread support among Americans.
The candidates also conveniently avoided the most controversial and contested aspects of abortion policy, including limits on the procedure at any point in a pregnancy. Whether this dodge was intentional or the natural outcome of a quick-paced debate, it stood in contrast to one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 presidential debates, when Hillary Clinton endorsed abortion through the end of the third trimester of a pregnancy. So far this cycle, Democrats have been running to embrace the abortion-rights positions that poll well with voters, and steering clear of tougher questions. In reality, however, these nitpicky questions about abortion limits matter: These are the policy areas where most abortion fights actually happen at the federal level.