Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke clashed on the debate stage during an argument about gun control, and the moment was so heated, it drew gasps from the audience — and threw Twitter for a loop.
Viewers were expecting to see arguments between Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden during the October 15 Democratic debate, but the most heated moment of the night came courtesy of two of the most unassuming suspects: Pete Buttigieg, 37, and Beto O’Rourke, 47. The fight between the South Bend, Indiana mayor and former Texas congressman came while discussing potential assault rifle bans. O’Rourke said that he believes that the government should buy back assault rifles (what could be considered a form of confiscation), and Buttigieg stated that he thought the plan wasn’t detailed enough. He argued that such a strict proposal could hurt Democrats’ chances appealing to moderates. “We can not wait for purity tests, we just have to get something done,” said Buttigieg.
“This is not a purity test,” O’Rourke shot back, saying that if the government was going to ban assault rifles for being a threat to society, then they should get them off the streets entirely. “Let’s decide what we are going to believe in — what we are going to achieve and let’s bring this country together in order to do that,” he continued, then implying that Buttigieg was hesitant because he wanted to do well in the polls. Buttigieg, visibly angered, replied, “The problem isn’t the polls, the problem is the policy. And I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.” The response drew audible gasps from the audience at Otterbein University, captured on air by CNN’s cameras. Moderators Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett, and Marc Lacey looked a little rattled, too.
But Twitter erupted, divided between applauding Buttigieg, defending O’Rourke, and just plain wondering WTF was happening on the debate stage (also wondering who the hell Tom Steyer is). “The adult in the room @petebuttigieg. #Beto needs to go home. It was fun while it lasted. But he’s not presidential,” a Buttigieg supporter tweeted. One viewer confessed that they “winced” during the back and forth. An O’Rourke supporter provided a different point of view, tweeting, “I am Voting for @BetoORourke to get safer Gun Lws, including getting Weapons of War off of our streets and Pete thinks that it’s ok that Assault Weapons remain legal to purchase by Domestic Terrorist for the next mass murder.”
Elsewhere in the debate, Senator Bernie Sanders addressed his disappearance from the campaign trail after suffering a heart attack, and subsequently undergoing surgery, on October 1. After cracking a joke that he felt fine and didn’t need to stop talking, he thanked his fellow candidates for checking in on him. “Let me take this moment, if I might, to thank so many people … for their love, for their prayers, for their well-wishes,” he said.