One of the most surprising aspects of Tuesday night's Democratic debate was the lack of criticism hurled at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Don't get me wrong; there were plenty of partisan attacks on the Republican party, about everything from women's reproductive rights to immigration, but very few mentioned the top-polling GOP candidate by name. The fact that Trump was left out of the Democratic debate discussion is a stark contrast to the continuous critiques of Hillary Clinton during both GOP debates.
Clinton especially was very careful not to say her Republican rivals' name while on stage, even when criticizing Republican candidates who "demonized hardworking immigrants." Martin O'Malley made one of two quick references to Trump while answering a question on providing in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants: "A lot of the xenophobes, the immigrant haters, like some that we've heard — like Donald Trump, that carnival barker in the Republican part — tried to mischaracterize it as free tuition for illegal immigrants." The crowd had obviously been waiting for a good Trump smackdown, because everyone burst into applause after that jab.
The only other mention of Trump came in a question from Dana Bash, who asked Bernie Sanders, "you've mentioned a couple of times you do have a plan to make public colleges free for everyone. Secretary Clinton has criticized that in saying she's not in favor of making a college free for Donald Trump's kids. Do you think taxpayers should pick up the tab for wealthy children?"
Because of the question, Sanders briefly talked about Trump in his answer, saying that he and other billionaires would "pay a hell of a lot more in taxes" if he were president, but even that wasn't a full-fledged attack on the real estate mogul.
While Republican candidates took any chance they could to raise doubt about Clinton's trustworthiness surrounding the email scandal or to dare her to watch the Planned Parenthood videos, the Democrats chose the opposite approach. By barely saying Trump's name, the Republican frontrunner wasn't allowed to become a big talking point in the media after the debate, and the focus remained on the candidates in the hall. Whether planned or not, the strategy also refused to recognize Trump as a serious opponent. Let's face it: The Republicans critiqued Clinton so heavily because she's still their main competition, while not talking about Trump allowed the Democrats to assert that they aren't worried about him.