The Slatest

Everything Democratic Candidates Said About Trump on the First Night of Debate

President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House on June 26.
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

The viewing experience on the first night of the NBC Democratic primary debate—a two-hour affair on Wednesday involving Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Julián Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Bill de Blasio, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, John Delaney, and Tim Ryan—may have been bogged down by the sheer number of candidates, but it had one refreshing quality: a relatively low level of focus on President Donald Trump.

While some candidates did work in a mention of Trump, most references were asides. Even the angriest and most emotive answers, like those in response to the topic of family separations and school shootings, managed to focus more on systemic and policy issues and solutions. Notably, only one candidate, in one brief answer, focused his entire response on the president.

That’s not to say Trump’s presence could be missed. The beginning of the debate was surprisingly Trump-light, but the president eventually became a bigger topic of conversation. Here’s what each candidate had to say about their potential future opponent.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Topic: The feasibility of free higher education and other popular Democratic ideas.
Comment: “Well, first, the economy. We know that not everyone is sharing in this prosperity. And Donald Trump just sits in the White House and gloats about what’s going on. When you have so many people that are having trouble affording college, and having trouble affording their premiums.”

Topic: The Iran nuclear deal.
Comment: “Donald Trump told us when he got out of it that he was going to give us a better deal. Those were his words. And now we are a month away from the Iranians who claim now that they’re going to blow the cap on enriching uranium. The Iranians have told us this. And that’s where we are right now. He’s made us less safe than we were when he became president. … And this president is literally every single day 10 minutes away from going to war, one tweet away from going to war, and I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5 in the morning.”

Topic: Black and Latino support for the Democratic nominee.
Comment: “You also need to make sure that those communities are able to get those jobs of the future. The STEM jobs. In fact, Donald Trump, one of the first bills that he signed, of the 34 he signed where I was the lead Democrat—OK, that’s a first up here—was one that was about that. Making sure minority community members could share in those jobs.”

Topic: Closing statement.
Comment: “I’m someone that can win and beat Donald Trump. I have won every place, every race, and every time. I have won in the reddest of districts—ones that Donald Trump won by over 20 points. I can win in states like Wisconsin and Iowa and in Michigan.”

Gov. Jay Inslee

Topic: Income inequality.
Comment: “Look, Donald Trump is simply wrong. He says wind turbines cause cancer. We know they cause jobs. And we know that we can put millions of people to work in the clean energy jobs of the future.”

Topic: Immigration.
Comment: “I’m proud to have been the first governor to stand up against Donald Trump’s heinous Muslim ban. … Donald Trump the other day tried to threaten me. He thought it was a threat to tell me he’d send refugees in Washington state if we passed a law that I passed, and I told him that’s not a threat at all, we welcome refugees into our state.”

Topic: The biggest geopolitical threat to the United States.
Comment: “The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump. There’s no question.”

Sen. Cory Booker

Topic: Migrant families arriving at the border.
Comment: “There is a humane way that affirms human rights and human dignity that actually solves this problem. Donald Trump isn’t solving this problem. We’ve seen under his leadership a surge at our border.”

Topic: The Iran nuclear deal.
Comment: “First and foremost it was a mistake to pull out of that deal. One of the reasons we’re seeing this hostility now is because Donald Trump is marching us to a far more dangerous situation. Literally, he took us out of a deal that gave us transparency into their nuclear program and pushed back a nuclear breakout 10, 20 years. And now we see Iran threatening to go further, and we’re being pulled further and further into this crisis.”

Topic: Closing statement.
Comment: “I’ve taken on bullies and beat them. I’ve taken on tough fights and we’ve won. And we win those fights not by showing the worst of who we are, but rising to who’s best. Donald Trump wants us to fight him on his turf and his terms. We will beat him. I will beat him by calling this country to a sense of common purpose again. This is a referendum on him and getting rid of him, but it’s also a referendum on us.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Topic: Genocide, human rights violations, and U.S. intervention.
Comment: “Unfortunately, under this administration, President Trump has alienated our allies and our friends and our alliances. He’s diminished our standing in the world, and he’s made us weaker as a country. Less able to confront challenges, whether it’s Iran or North Korea or Vladimir Putin in Russia who attacked and invaded our democracy in 2016 and who President Trump has offered another invitation to do the same. He’s embraced strongmen and dictators at the expense of the great democracies.”

Topic: The Mueller report and potential crimes committed by Trump.
Comment: “If we set another precedent now that a candidate who invited the participation of a foreign power, a president who sought to obstruct the investigation into the invasion of our democracy, if we allow him to get away with this with complete impunity, then we’ll have set a new standard. And that is some people, because of the position of power and public trust that they hold, are above the law, and we cannot allow that to stand. So we must begin impeachment now so we have the facts and truth.”

Topic: Closing statement.
Comment: “We need a movement like the one that we led in Texas. It renewed our democracy by bringing everyone in and writing nobody off. That’s how we beat Donald Trump.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Topic: Iran and military action.
Comment: “Donald Trump and his Cabinet—Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and others—are creating a situation that just a spark would light off a war with Iran, which is incredibly dangerous. That’s why we need to de-escalate tensions. Trump needs to get back into the Iran nuclear deal. And swallow his pride. Put the American people first.”

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro

Topic: Migrants at the border.
Comment: “If I were president today, I would sign an executive order that would get rid of Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.”

Topic: Closing statement.
Comment: “If I’m elected president, I will work hard every single day so that you and your family can get good health care. Your child can get a good education. And you can have good job opportunities. Whether you live in a big city or a small town. And on Jan. 20th, 2021, we’ll say adiós to Donald Trump.”

Rep. Tim Ryan

Topic: Manufacturing jobs.
Comment: “First, let’s say the president came, he said don’t sell your house. The people in Youngstown, Ohio, and in his administration, just in the last two years, we lost … 4,000 jobs at a General Motors facility.”

Topic: Foreign policy.
Comment: “The Taliban was protecting those people who were plotting against us. All I’m saying if we want to go into elections and say we got to withdraw from the world, that’s what President Trump is saying. We can’t.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and former Rep. John Delaney did not mention Trump during the debate.