U.S. President Donald Trump assailed his Democratic challengers on Wednesday after their latest debate, calling them "clowns" who would crash the economy.
"You would think there is NO WAY that any of the Democrat Candidates that we witnessed last night could possibly become President of the United States," Trump said on Twitter after the 12 contenders spent much of their three-hour debate attacking Trump's White House performance over the last three years and calling for his impeachment.
Trump said that if he loses the November 2020 election after a single four-year term, "Our record Economy would CRASH, just like in 1929, if any of those clowns became President!"
The 12 candidates wasted no time Tuesday night before telling a national television audience why Trump should be impeached by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to face trial in the Republican-majority Senate, even if Trump's removal through the impeachment process remains an unlikely outcome.
In his opening statement, former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's top challengers, declared, "This president is the most corrupt ... in all our history," an assessment echoed across the debate stage.
Another leading candidate, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, said, "Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than politics. Donald Trump broke the law. No one is above the law. Impeachment must go forward."
Trump's opponents hurled some of their toughest attacks against Trump for his withdrawal in recent days of U.S. troops from northern Syria, leaving Kurdish fighters - U.S. battlefield allies in the war against Islamic State terrorists - vulnerable to an onslaught from Turkish troops invading from the north. Trump on Wednesday said the Turkish invasion is "not our problem," declaring that the Kurdish fighters are "not angels."
Biden called Trump's abandonment of Kurdish fighters the "most shameful thing I've ever seen a president do." California Senator Kamala Harris called the bloodshed in northern Syria "a crisis of Donald Trump's making," while Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said, "Our president blew it and he's too proud to say it."
While mostly targeting Trump, some of the candidates aimed salvos at Warren, who has surged in recent polling, even overtaking Biden in some surveys of Democratic voters. Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg attacked Warren's call for a government-run national medical insurance plan, claiming she is being evasive about how she would pay for it.
Tuesday's debate was the fourth in a string of almost-monthly get-togethers for the Democratic challengers seeking to win the party's nomination to face Trump. But with the candidates lined up on a stage at Otterbein University in the Midwestern state of Ohio, it was the largest such gathering and came as the new drama engulfed the U.S. political world just more than a year before voters head to the polls in the national balloting.
Ukraine phone call
Democrats in the House of Representatives opened the quick-moving impeachment probe after a whistleblower in the U.S. intelligence community raised questions as to whether Trump had put his political survival ahead of U.S. national security concerns when he asked Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for "a favor" in a late July call. Trump called for Kyiv to open an investigation into the role played by Biden in helping oust a Ukrainian prosecutor when he was former President Barack Obama's second-in-command, and to probe the lucrative service of Biden's son, Hunter, on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Both Bidens have denied wrongdoing, although the younger Biden, 49, told ABC News this week that he exercised "poor judgment" in serving on the Burisma company board because it had become a political liability for his father.
The elder Biden said he had never discussed with Hunter Biden the decision to join the Ukrainian company's board. Hunter Biden left the board earlier this year and now pledges to not work for any foreign company if his father is elected president.
Trump has repeatedly described his call with Zelenskiy as "perfect," said he has done nothing wrong and assailed the impeachment probe as another attempt to overturn his 2016 election victory.
The elder Biden, at 76 on his third run for the U.S. presidency, is the nominal leader in national surveys of Democratic voters of their choice as the party's standard bearer to face Trump, 73. Biden often defeats Trump in hypothetical polling matchups. So does Warren, a former Harvard law professor.
Biden and the 70-year-old Warren were at center stage on Tuesday, alongside Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist who currently stands as the third choice among Democrats. The 78-year-old Sanders recently suffered a heart attack, raising questions about his health as the oldest of the presidential contenders.
Asked about his stamina to campaign for the presidency, Sanders said he would be "mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country." Biden, who would turn 80 during his presidency if he wins the election, deflected a question about his age, saying that with it "comes wisdom. I know what has to be done."
The nine other candidates on the debate stage besides Biden, Warren and Sanders faced a daunting challenge: how best to distinguish themselves from the front-runners and gain new traction in national polls and surveys of voters in states where Democrats are holding party nominating contests starting in February.
All nine currently are polling in the single digits, compared to Biden and Warren in the upper 20% range, and Sanders at about 15%.
Ahead of the next debate, on Nov. 20, the national Democratic party has set the standards even higher to gain a spot on the stage. The candidates must have bigger polling numbers - at least 3% support in four national polls or 5% support in polls of people in states that are early on the voting calendar - and more financial support, from at least 165,000 individual donors.