Who Won the First Democratic Debates?

Julián Castro discusses his breakout debate performance.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

Subscribe to the Deconstructed podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsStitcherRadio Public, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.


A whopping 20 Democratic presidential candidates met in Miami, Florida this week for the first in what promises to be a very long season of primary debates. Pre-debate buzz centered around frontrunners like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—or Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, who let the fireworks fly on the second night in a heated exchange over the ex-Vice President’s record on school bussing. One surprise standout was former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who made headlines on the first night for his radical immigration proposals and for clashing with fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke. Castro joins Mehdi to talk about his big night, and Intercept DC Bureau Chief Ryan Grim stops by to analyze the debates.

Joe Biden: The fact is that in terms of busing, the busing I never — you would’ve been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council.

Kamala Harris: Vice President Biden, do you agree today, do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America?

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. Twenty candidates. Two nights. Four hours. And Chuck Todd. The first Democratic presidential primary debates of the 2020 election took place this week, God help us, hosted by NBC, in Florida, and featuring everyone from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. Yeah, Marianne Williamson. But it was an opportunity for some candidates, who have struggled to get media attention, but who are serious candidates, to well and truly shine.

Julian Castro: Because my name ID has been lower than a lot of these candidates, I need to make sure that I get enough time and I needed to make sure that when I had that time that I made the best use of it.

MH: That’s my guest today Julian Castro, former housing secretary under Barack Obama, former mayor of San Antonio. He was one of the breakout stars of the Democratic debates this week. I’ll speak to him about his clash with fellow Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke on the debate stage on Wednesday night.

I’ll also talk to my colleague Ryan Grim, The Intercept’s DC bureau chief, about the performances of Bernie, Biden, Warren and the woman who undoubtedly stole the show last night: Senator Kamala Harris.

[Music Interlude.]

On Wednesday night, there was only one real big hitter on the stage, one top tier candidate if you will, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren: We need to make structural change in our government, in our economy and in our country.

MH: But last night’s debate, debate two, had four big names on stage together for the first time. Now, I think it’s fair to say that Senator Kamala Harris dominated the debate and all of her nine rivals. She put them in check early on.

KH: Hey guys, you know what, America does not wanna witness a food fight, they wanna know how we’re gonna put food on their table.

MH: Mayor Pete Buttigieg went after the Republicans and their hypocrisy.

Pete Buttigieg: For a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that it is okay to suggest that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.

MH: Senator Bernie Sanders reminded us of his progressive record.

Bernie Sanders: I helped lead the effort for the first time to utilize the War Powers Act to get the United States out of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen which is the most horrific humanitarian disaster on earth.

MH: And former vice president, Joe Biden reminded us of Barack Obama’s progressive record.

JB: He’s the first man to bring together the entire world, 196 nations, to commit to deal with climate change.

MH: So who won these two debates? Can you win debates in which there are a kajillion people on stage all trying to get in and not being able to argue with each other properly? To talk more about this, to discuss the ins and outs of these debates, I’m joined by my friend, colleague, Ryan Grim, The Intercept’s DC bureau chief, author of the new book “We’ve Got People.” Ryan, good evening, good morning, good night. I don’t even know what time it is right now.

Ryan Grim: It doesn’t matter does it. It’s like Vegas.

MH: We’ve got no windows in the studio. We just hear the air being piped in. Ryan, if you were the proverbial martian landing in Florida, turning up at these two debates, watching it in your hotel room on TV — You had no knowledge about any of these people. You don’t know about Bernie Sanders and socialism. You don’t know about Joe Biden and Iraq. You don’t know anything about any of these candidates and you watched these two debates, four hours, twenty people, who do you come away with saying is the best leader? Who do you come away with saying is the person who will beat Donald Trump in 2020?

RG: Probably Warren and Harris, right? You know, they’re the ones that appeared to be presidential because if you’re a martian coming in, you don’t know that this species doesn’t allow women to be president.

MH: The species does. Americans don’t. Plenty of other countries have elected women leaders.

RG: The American species, the variety of the species.

MH: Yes.

RG: And I would also be very surprised to find out that they were competing for one position. Why do they have 20 people up on this stage?

MH: With about four or five who didn’t make the cut.

RG: And why are some of them so much better than some of the others?

MH: So, that for me stood out more than anything else. It was almost like not two tiers, multiple tiers. Some of these people shouldn’t be allowed to run for school board. And yet they’re on stage trying to be president of the United States. The Andrew Yangs, who’s been on the show, we’ll talk more about him. Marianne Williamson, the novelist.

RG: Who did not deliver her best performance either.

MH: I don’t know what her best performance is. John Delaney, the former congressman who was there on night one. Every time we spoke, I wanted to stab my face with a blunt spoon. They were there. We weren’t able to see “the big names,” the serious candidates, the grown-ups, the actual qualified people do their thing. Although on night two, the night we’re sitting and talking afterwards. On the second night, we saw a real moment between two of the big hitters, when Senator Kamala Harris took on, I think that’s the phrase, Vice President, former Vice President Joe Biden.

KH: So on the issue of race, I couldn’t agree more, that this is an issue that is still not being talked about truthfully, and honestly, there is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend or a co-worker who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination. Growing up my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because we were black. And I will say also that that in this campaign, we’ve also heard — and I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden.

I do not believe you are a racist. And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe and it’s personal, and I was — actually, it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California, who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

MH: Ryan, were you on the edge of your seat when that happened? I’ve gotta admit, I was and I’m no big Kamala Harris fan. We’ve done a whole show on her rather dodgy record as a prosecutor in California. But she was on fire tonight.

RG: It was good stuff. And you could tell something was about to happen when the moderator said “Well, okay, fine. We’ll give you 30 seconds.”

MH: She went for about two minutes.

RG: And yeah, she took a deep breath and burned through like a few seconds of it. They’re like, “Oh, I don’t think she plans on stopping at 30 seconds.” And then with the cadence and with the pace and the emotion, you can tell, okay, she’s looking to create a moment. She’s going somewhere with this and you then you say, “Oh, I see where she’s going with this.”

KH: Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then?

JB: No.

KH: Do you agree?

JB: I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed.

KH: Well, there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California Public Schools, almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.

JB: Because your city council made that decision.

KH: So, that’s when the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.

MH: And Ryan, is it not amazing to hear Joe Biden, basically, mansplaining and whitesplaining busing and segregation to a black woman?

RG: It’s 2019 and somebody running for the Democratic nomination defended the right of local city councils to pursue segregation policies if they see fit. Harris —

MH: She looks done. She didn’t expect that response. States’ rights!

RG: You expect “I was wrong.”

MH: It was the ’70s. We’ve moved on.

RG: I was trying to do moderate busing and make it better or you know.

MH: But he went with “I was against it. It was the Department of Education, and it’s states’ rights that I was defending.

RG: And she said, you know, and that’s why you need the federal government to step in when states and localities don’t protect civil rights. And the look on her face while she was saying that was like, “Do I really have to stand here and explain this to you in 2019?” States’ rights, there was a civil war fought around the rhetoric of states rights. The entire rhetoric against the Civil Rights Movement was states’ rights. We’re not racist—

MH: But in 2019, Barack Obama’s vice president offers that up as a defense of his awful 1970s busing record. He’s so bad at politics. Aside from the defensiveness of it, he’s bad at politics.

RG: And he was like, “Look, it’s great that you went to an integrated school, but your city council was okay with that.”

MH: Berkeley.

RG: And then Lee Fang pointed this out on Twitter, it’s the first time she’s really acknowledged that she’s from Berkeley and not Oakland. A great catch by Lee. But he literally is saying that the only reason that desegregation was okay is because the Berkeley City Council approved it.

MH: Just to come back to Kamala Harris because the last time we talked about her on the show, we were very negative about her. So, let’s be positive. She clearly is someone who knows how to debate. She knows how to speak. She knows how to argue. You said, create a moment. What’s interesting about creating a moment is lots of people trying to create moments, but they were shit at it, right?

RG: Right.

MH: So, you know, Amy Klobuchar had this really, some line about foam and beers like she thought it was really funny. No one laughed. It was really badly delivered. Eric Swallwell tonight, talked about changing diapers and changing Washington, which from someone else might have been funny. It wasn’t funny from him. And yet, she came along and it was clearly a moment, clearly she’d prepped for it, but delivered it so naturally, powerfully, emotionally, that kind of “That little girl was me.” I mean, Ryan, I teach debate workshops. That’s the kind of thing you say, that is your moment. That is where you walk away with it. It’s mic drop, whatever you want to call it.

RG: I think that one reason that the left kind of came for her as hard as it did, or you know, earlier in the political season, is because the left gets that she has a lot of raw political talent and charisma, and combined with the politics that don’t agree with the left, that’s a real threat. And so, you know, you saw them coming at her early in 2017 and then again, you know, more recently, after she faded, the kind of target has moved to Joe Biden’s back. But yes, like people have —

MH: Not fading now.

RG: People have known that she has political skills. It hasn’t translated well because of the moment you know. Tonight felt real, but her overall persona feels out of time. It feels like that she would be absolutely crushing it in 2008, 2010 even.

MH: She’s Obama-esque and that Obama title’s been given to a lot of people, to the Beto’s, to the Buttigieg’s. She clearly is Obama-esque in the terms of her backstory and her brilliance as an orator.

RG: But Obama was able to bring the left in with his community organizer thing.

MH: To be fair to her, I saw lefties getting very excited when they asked the question, the moderators asked who would give up their private insurance for government-run program? I think she was the only person who put her hand up. Was she — I think she was the only person to put her hand up alongside Bernie Sanders?

RG: That’s the thing that she’s run on a fairly left wing platform.

MH: Yeah.

RG: But she has this long record as not just a prosecutor but a law and order prosecutor. She’s run a lot of campaigns from the right. She’s run them in San Francisco and in California. So —

MH: But if you’re part of the Democratic base that just wants to beat Trump and you don’t care about that kind of stuff, the details, the policy, the ideology, she clearly is someone, you know, coming back to our proverbial martian, you show that alien a clip of Trump and then you show a clip — She can — We saw that in the Kavanaugh hearings. She is very good at this stuff. And it helps when you’re up against someone so bad as Joe Biden. It’s amazing more people didn’t take shots at Joe Biden. On night one, he wasn’t there. So they didn’t take shots at him as much. And on night two, he was there and Bernie Sanders didn’t lay a glove on him. You know, the others Gillibrand, not so much, Michael Bennett tried. I mean, Michael Bennett, why are you on the stage? Some of these people.

Just to come back to the multiple tiers of candidates. Isn’t it really annoying, that we can’t see the people who actually might be president have a proper debate? Because all these fringe characters have somehow managed to get 65,000 individual donors and poll at one percent and thereby get on the stage? I mean, 20 candidates over two nights? Come on.

RG: Republicans faced this problem in 2016 and they did it right. They had a varsity debate with the top contenders and a kiddie table.

MH: But didn’t — The Democrats basically had a kiddie table on Wednesday night. It was Elizabeth Warren plus the kids.

RG: And maybe Beto who probably makes the varsity.

MH: It ended up being someone we’re going to talk to in a few moments who broke through and joined Elizabeth Warren on the top table as it were. I mean, was Elizabeth Warren, you know her well, was she sitting at home tonight watching or sitting in her hotel room in Miami, watching the debate, wishing she was there tonight taking on Joe Biden? Because she has history with Biden.

RG: I don’t think so because there’s often a price to be paid, you know, for launching the attack that both, you know, both people go down. Now, Harris because of the way she delivered it, just asking him a question: are you still for segregation?

MH: But also very personal “I was that kid.”

RG: It would have been much harder for Warren to pull off an attack that wouldn’t have also damaged her a little bit, made her look like she was, you know, coming at him in some type of an aggressive and maybe unfair way.

MH: What happened to Bernie Sanders? A lot of listeners of this podcast, massive fans of Bernie, I’m a great sympathizer with Bernie’s platform and politics. But he was kind of hit and miss tonight.

RG: Well, I think one problem Bernie has is own consistency. He’s been delivering the same message for 30 years and that’s what people absolutely love about the guy.

MH: It’s a good message.

RG: And it’s a good and it’s a popular message. And there have been innovations to it. Free college has been coupled with student loan forgiveness. But he has his moves. And once you’ve seen those moves over and over, it’s difficult for him to have that that kind of moment. He also is never going to kind of rehearse a touching moment, in the way —

MH: — Or an attack line.

RG: Or an attack line.

MH: Remember when they offered him the chance in 2016 to go after Hillary on her emails. And he said, “No, we’ve heard enough about your emails.” And yeah, I can’t see him attacking Biden, a colleague of his, former colleague on the Senate floor of his in the same way that Kamala Harris just went out and did what had to be done.

RG: He’ll certainly hit him as he did on the war. And on things that he’s been wrong about. He’ll hit him on policy. But he’s not like a political knife fighter in the way that some of these other candidates are.

MH: And someone else who did very well, tonight, another former guest on the show, Mayor Pete was quite strong. See the difference between Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden is Pete Buttigieg knows that his record as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, especially in relation to policing and black communities were very upset with him there, is going to come up. He turns up, offers an authentic, moving, personal, seemingly honest answer. Biden can’t do that when it came to busing or Iraq. Buttigieg again, is a solid, whatever you think of his politics, a solid operator.

RG: Right? He’s great at doing job interviews. He’s a hard worker. He’s a smart guy. He’s studies.

MH: Eloquent.

RG: He’s eloquent. He’s articulate. And you’re right. He needed a day or two to come up with some moving thing to say, to respond to his deplorable record, which also raises the question: He’s known he’s going to do this for several years now, probably since he was in high school. So then why don’t you govern? Can you even say governed? Run your city, run your town in a way that doesn’t shame you, embarrass you when you rise to a national platform.

MH: Ryan, you and I’ve been around politicians for what two decades, me, in my case — Amazing how many of these people don’t plan ahead. Even though they’re ludicrously ambitious, they don’t cover their asses. They don’t get their ducks in a row. I mean, Joe Biden, he didn’t sort out all of his stuff with the, with the Clarence Thomas hearings.

RG: Well, he’s just lazy. But Buttigieg —

MH: He didn’t sort out Iraq. He didn’t come up with a clever line tonight to say, “I got it wrong on Iraq.”

RG: Buttigieg doesn’t have that excuse. And so, if you’re mayor of South Bend, and you’re thinking in your mind that you’re a future president, and your black police chief comes to you and says, “I have secretly recorded racists on the police department. We need to root them out because this is a systemic problem,” you don’t fire the police chief for that if you want to be president.


RG: It’s wrong to do it, period. Setting that aside, if you want to be president and win Democratic nomination.

MH: But it hasn’t hurt him so far.

RG: It has. It has. I think this is wounded him and I think —

MH: Even after tonight’s debate where he’s getting lots of love after Kamala. He’s seen as kind of the number two person tonight.

RG: I think the entire thing has made it virtually impossible for him to break out of his kind of professional managerial class bubble that he’s in.

MH: What I found so interesting about the two nights is that the five kind of main contenders according to the polls: Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg were the five who stood out more than any others. Apart from, I’m gonna throw this in here, Julian Castro, former housing secretary under Barack Obama, former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, brother to a member of Congress, Joaquin Castro, who’s been on this show. He’s running for president didn’t have much name recognition, wasn’t polling very high and in the first debate, he started trending because he starts talking about immigration, starts talking about very ambitious, bold plan to decriminalize illegal border crossings. And he gets into a spot with the once golden boy from his state, Beto O’Rourke.

JC: The reason that they’re separating these little children from their families is that they’re using Section 1325 of that act which criminalizes coming across the border to incarcerate the parents and then separate them. Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some, like Congressman O’Rourke, have not. And I want to challenge all of the candidate to do that.

Beto O’Rourke: But you’re looking at just one small part of this. I’m talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws.

JC: That’s not true.


BO: And if you do that, I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to follow our laws when they come to this country.

JC: That’s actually not true. I’m talking about millions of folks — a lot of folks that are coming are not seeking asylum. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants, right? And you said recently that the reason you didn’t want to repeal Section 1325 was because you were concerned about human trafficking and drug trafficking. But let me tell you what: Section 18, title 18 of the U.S. code, title 21 and title 22, already cover human trafficking.


JC: I think that you should do your homework on this issue. If you did your homework on this issue, you would know that we should repeal this section.

MH: Was that the moment where Julian Castro ended Beto O’Rourke’s presidential bid?

RG: It was probably over already. I mean, I suppose he could have had some breakout moment.

MH: Beto?

RG: Yeah, and revived his candidacy.

MH: He would in Spanish, I’m sure.

RG: But short of that, he had already ended it. The difference between Castro and the other clowns in the backseat of the car that you mentioned, Delaney and the others —

MH: Hickenlooper.

RG: Hickenlooper.

MH: There was a moment where Rachel Maddow said I want to bring in Governor Hickenlooper and I just wanted to scream at the TV. No, don’t bring him in. Why?

RG: Why would you want to? Nobody believes that you want to bring him in?

MH: Sorry, what were you going to say?

RG: The difference is that he has been a national figure, at least in elite circles, he’s been bandied about as vice president in, you know, years past. And people have always seen him as on a glide path toward toward a White House run that, you know, they saw his move from Congress to or his move to the administration.

MH: From the mayor of San Antonio?

RG: Right fro that perspective that “Ok, now he’s —”

MH: And he’s got a great backstory. His grandmother came to the U.S. from Mexico. His mother was a civil rights organizer. He and his brother have both got to kind of national attention.

RG: Now he’s going to do HUD. He’s going to still have an administrative post. He’s building the resume. But then the politics moves past him in the same way that they move past Harris. And so, he also has done a lot of gymnastics ideologically.

MH: Right guy for the wrong year.

RG: Right, right.

MH: So, he’s had to move, but it on immigration, certainly, he’s moved not just to the left, but he’s taken a very bold stance, which even the likes of Elizabeth Warren recently followed him in taking this position where you say, “Let’s decriminalize border crossings. Let’s not treat people who enter the country without the right papers as criminals, civil violations, fine, not put them in court and put them in prison.” A bold move. He got a lot of love on Wednesday night. He took on not just Beto O’Rourke, but Donald Trump, which a lot of people want to see taken on. One thing that bothered me, Ryan, is that you have this white nationalist in the White House, not many democrats want to talk about white nationalism, or fascism or the rise of Nazism, or people shooting up synagogues, a major part of modern America just we breezed past over two nights.

RG: Yeah, I guess the thinking is that there isn’t a lot of gain to be had there since all of the Democrats agree on that point. And that’s the other problem with having 10 people on a stage is that you’re only going to get a short amount of time. So, you need to distinguish yourself. And if you don’t distinguish yourself, and you just say things that everybody else, you know, agrees with and has said before, then people criticize you for wasting your time.

MH: Well, one person who didn’t waste his time, as I mentioned was Julian Castro, who is a prime example of how these debates can really turn around political fortunes. Most people were not talking about him a few days ago, now they are. And Julian Castro joins me now.

[Music interlude.]

MH: Julian Castro, thank you for joining me on Deconstructed.

JC: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

MH: Did you? Did you think you were going to do this with well? Let’s be honest. Right at the beginning, did you think you’d be trending on Wednesday night after the first debate?

JC: Well, I hoped that I would. But no, I didn’t think that I would necessarily. When I got to the debate, what I was thinking was that I needed to make sure because my name ID has been lower than a lot of these candidates that the mainstream media has been focused on, I need to make sure that I get enough time. And that’s, you know, that’s not something that’s guaranteed at all when you have nine other candidates on stage. And I needed to make sure that when I had that time that I made the best use of it. I knew that the issue of immigration was going to come up. And so I wanted to make sure that I was especially on about that issue. And that’s what happened yesterday.

MH: And to be fair to you, you’ve been on that issue for a while now even before, well before these debates came along, well before this week, the border crisis blew up again, you were pushing this issue of decriminalizing illegal border crossings. You talked last night about repealing Section 1325 and you went after Beto O’Rourke, specifically on that issue. Explain to our listeners who maybe weren’t following the debate that close, who may have missed the debate, why is it so important to repeal Section 1325? And why did you go after Beto on that issue?

JC: One of the most cruel policies that this Trump administration has put in place is the policy of separating little children from their parents when migrants come over as families across the border. The reason that they can do that is because Section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act makes it a crime to cross the border. What I’ve argued is that we should make that a civil offense, not a criminal one. And for the longest time from, you know, about 1929 till the early 2000s, even though that section of the law was in place, we used to treat it as a civil offense, not a criminal offense. I say that we need to go back to treating it as a civil offense so that we can guarantee that no future administration will engage in cruel family separation.

And the difference between my immigration plan and Congressman O’Rourke’s is that I call for the repeal of Section 1325 and his doesn’t. I made the point that Senator Warren, Senator Booker, Governor Inslee, and others have joined my call to repeal that section because that’s the only way to guarantee that we’re going to end family separation. And I challenged everybody else to do that.

MH: And by my count in tonight’s debate, the second debate — we’re speaking shortly after it — the majority of people on stage raised their hands and agreed with you that that should be the position. So, you’re clearly leading opinion in your party on this and I’m glad you are. But what do you say to people who say, “Well, you know, Democrats are going to be painted as open borders. Trump is already calling you open borders.” What’s your response to that kind of worried, defensive posture from so many of your colleagues?

JC: Look, Donald Trump is going to call Democrats “open borders,” say, they’re for open borders no matter what. He’s going to say that we want to let anybody in and nobody is talking about open borders. I have pointed out on numerous occasions that we have 664 miles of fencing along the southern border. We have thousands of personnel down there. There are planes. There are helicopters. There are boats. There are security cameras. States like Texas dedicate $800 million of state money to border security. So, you know, there’s no way that anybody can call that an open border. What we’re talking about is the difference between treating somebody who crosses that border, giving them a misdemeanor, or treating it as a civil offense and there’s still a court process. They still have to appear in a hearing. But you can’t separate them from their little children. I want to end family separation.

MH: And a lot of people are saying “Well, you’re from Texas. Beto O’Rourke is from Texas. The Democrats need to win the Senate as well, not just the presidency. John Cornyn, the Republican senator there is in a weaker position,” some might say. Why don’t one of you two run against him? I assume you think Beto O’Rourke should pull out and run against John Cornyn so you can stay in and try and be president?

JC: Well, I supported O’Rourke when he ran against Senator Ted Cruz, and of course, I would be happy to support him against John Cornyn. We also do have a strong candidate, MJ Hegar who has stepped up and said that she’s going to run as a Democrat against John Cornyn. Mehdi, my experience is as a federal executive, I served in the Obama administration as a cabinet member. I have a track record as an executive, and the president is an executive position. So, I’m running for an office that’s consistent with my experience.

MH: What if that track record comes back to bite you in the ass? Because, you know, Obama got a lot of things wrong. I know he’s very popular with Democrats but just in tonight’s debate, Joe Biden was asked about his deporter in chief record. You’re big on this kind of immigration reform policy and yet, Barack Obama, the president you served his cabinet deported, I think, three million people. Those are the kind of things — do you think there needs to be a reckoning with the Obama record by people like yourself if you’re going to go forward and beat Trump in 2020?

JC: Well, I said very clearly that I think what happened in the Obama administration is that if you look at the beginning of it, 2009, versus the end of it in 2016, that the administration did get better on the issue of immigration. I think, especially with DACA and with DAPA and implementing the Family Case Management Program, which said, instead of detaining people, you know, detaining families, we’re going to go ahead and allow them to, you know, not be detained. And instead, keep in touch with them and make sure that they meet their court appearances and was a very successful program. So, I do think that there was improvement. I’ve also made it clear, and people can check the record that, you know, I criticized the Obama administration on immigration when I disagreed with it. And, you know, I’m criticizing the Trump administration, and I have my own plan on immigration for what I would do to fix a broken system, and make sure that we treat people with compassion instead of cruelty.

MH: I know you gotta run. You had a clash with Beto O’Rourke that kind of dominated the debate on Wednesday night. Tonight’s debate, there was this massive clash between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, a lot of us were on the edge of our seat. What did you make of it? Did you think Kamala Harris won the debate tonight, as most people seem to do?

JC: I think she did very well. I think she helped herself tonight. I believe that I helped myself last night. And for a similar reason, which is that, you know, when you go out there, people want to know, look, who’s going to be able to go in there toe to toe and stand up against Donald Trump? What they saw for me last night was that I can handle myself. I can go into that situation and, you know, deliver my message and win the voters over. And that’s what they saw, I think, from Kamala tonight.

MH: Last question based on the exchange between Kamala and Biden, which was about his rather dodgy record on segregation and busing, who would you rather have on your ticket alongside you, Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris?

JC: Right now, I’m focused on winning the nomination. And so if I had my druthers, I would actually have my twin brother as my running mate.

MH: It would be hard to work out which ones which obviously, when it came to the inauguration, but serious question on that substantive disagreement between Biden and Harris, which side do you come down? It was valid criticism of Biden by Harris, I think, what do you think?

JC: On the issue of busing?

MH: Yeah, and his record.

JC: I mean, I think that’s a legitimate issue to bring up. Everybody’s gonna have to answer for their record. And, you know, when you’ve been in politics for over 40 years, there are going to be issues that are recent ones and there are also going to be issues from some time ago that you’re going to have to explain. I do think that he offered an explanation. And I do think that he pointed out some ways that he’s been a champion for civil rights over the years. But there are clearly some positions that he took, that will give Democrats pause.

MH: Julian Castro, thank you so much for taking time out to speak with us. Hope we get to speak to you again for a bit more longer. Go get some sleep, I guess.

JC: Thanks a lot.

MH: That was Julian Castro, former housing secretary under Barack Obama, presidential candidate, one of the people who is widely considered to have “won” the debates this week, if you can win these kind of debates. He said to me very openly that he turned up at the debate knowing he didn’t have as much name recognition as others on that stage, including Beto, but used his time to his advantage.

What amazes me is the number of people who wasted their time who just made bland remarks. I really do wonder how some of these people like the Michael Bennett’s of this world, forget the fact that he’s running for president, how is he a United States Senator? I mean, he’s deeply unimpressive. And then you see people at Andrew Yang, who’s been on the show before. He came on this show impressed a lot of our listeners by talking about his — I remember you messaged me saying you were impressed with him with his freedom dividend, his universal basic income, a radical idea supported by a lot of economists. And yet, when he’s asked about it tonight, he kind of threw away his 60 seconds.

Andrew Yang: We need to put the American people in a position to benefit from all these innovations and other parts of the economy. And if we had a value added tax, even half the European level, it would generate over 800 billion in new revenue.

MH: Imagine being someone like Andrew Yang, or a Marianne Williamson, who manages you know, these people are nobody, no one’s ever heard of them until a few months ago, until tonight, in fact. They managed to get on the debate. This is a big deal, right? Not many human beings get to be in that position. President of the United States, Democratic debate, 20 people, millions of people watching, and you get this time and you just throw it away.

RG: I would suspect that Yang was pretty nervous. You know, he’s a pretty regular guy who just is now on the debate stage.

MH: Standing next to the former vice president of the United States, Bernie Sanders, yeah.

RG: He had the courage not to wear a tie.

MH: Yeah.

RG: I think he just, nerves got a hold of him. I don’t think Marianne Williamson was necessarily — I’ve heard her talk. She’s much better in long form, like her ideas don’t work in 30 seconds. She’s talking about love’s going to beat hate. Like you need a good 5-10 minutes to flesh that out.

MH: You’re right. We’re being, I’m being unfair to people who are not professional politicians. What about the professional politicians, many of whom gave closing statements which, you know, my daughter in elementary school, if she was preparing for a class presentation or debate, I would say, that’s bad, you got to improve. You got to practice more. You got to have some originality. And as I say, only a handful of those, that’s why Kamala Harris was so strong tonight. Because relatively there was so much mediocrity on the stage, and on the stage the night before.

RG: Right, and she only had to shine a couple of times because everybody else is taking up all the time. And right, she’s just so obviously superior to a lot of those also-rans that it really does come through. And then you’re kind of biased in how you’re viewing it because, or I am, at least, when I would see somebody like John Delaney too even when I agreed with everything that he was saying, I would just be so mad.

MH: You’re just using up valuable time where I could hear Beto and Julian Castro have another round about immigration.

RG: It’s late. It’s like, past my bedtime.

MH: I wanted Warren.

RG: Life is far too short for me to listen to anything John Delaney has to say.

MH: The problem is we need to whittle these people down, but they’re not going to get whittled down. Yang’s already qualified for the next set of debates.

RG: A lot of the others won’t, though.

MH: Yeah, we just need to get it down. We just need to be, and Warren needs to be on the same stage as Biden, and Kamala Harris and Bernie so we can have a proper look at who the potential people are. I’m amazed that Biden is the front runner. I’m amazed that he will probably stay the front runner still now. Let’s see for a few weeks unless Kamala has a sudden boost or Bernie does. But what’s interesting is that at every opportunity tonight — So, Zach, our producer of this podcast, and I, no biases, we went through the debate trying to find a good clip of Biden. We wanted to have all the big hitters have good strong clips. We couldn’t find any of Biden tonight. There was no moment tonight where he just knocked one out of the park and the crowd cheered like mad for the former Democratic vice president to Barack Obama. That for me is amazing. Amazing that he couldn’t produce one moment.

RG: Yeah, I was wondering if he was going to be able to, you know, string coherent sentences together, because that’s been a knock on him that, that he’s slipping. He’s old.

MH: Bernie’s old as well but Biden came across —

RG: Differently, right.

MH: And Trump’s old.

RG: Right and Trump can’t string sentences together either.

MH: But Biden, since his vice presidential days, yeah, doesn’t look as — I don’t know if people are going to accuse me being ageist here, but it did, he did come across as if he wasn’t ready for this stuff. He hadn’t prepared. And I think we should end this conversation by giving the last word to Joe Biden.

JB: Anyway, my time’s up. I’m sorry.

MH: It may well be, Joe. It may well be. Ryan, thanks for joining me to talk about this craziness. There’ll be many many more debates ahead. We hope with fewer candidates.

RG: Can’t wait.

MH: I can. But thank you for joining me at this late hour to help us deconstruct all of this. That’s our show! It’s our last show of this season. We’ll be back in September after a summer break. I hope you can survive while we’re gone. Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. You can go back and listen to old shows while we’re gone. Go to theintercept.com/deconstructed to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback in the coming weeks of months, email us at Podcasts@theintercept.com. Have a great summer. Thanks so much. See you in a couple months!

Join The Conversation