It might have marked a moment of unity for the Democratic Party, at a moment of national crisis for the nation.
But Sunday night’s Democratic debate showcased deep philosophical divisions between the last two remaining major candidates – complete with some reminders that both happen to be men in their late 70s, at a moment of particular concern for the health of older Americans.
While the campaign – like almost everything in life – is subsumed by worries and fallout from coronavirus, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders tangled over issues large and small, suggesting that the party will have to wait to come together.
“People are looking for results, not a revolution,” Biden said, taking on a famous Sanders catchphrase. “We have problems we have to solve now. Now. What's the revolution going to do? Disrupt everything in the meantime?”
Sanders countered: “You need to take on Wall Street, you need to take on the drug companies and the insurance companies and the fossil fuel industry. You don't take campaign contributions from them.”
Sanders may have little mathematical chance to catch Biden in terms of the delegate race. Both men sharply condemned President Donald Trump’s leadership during the coronavirus crisis in particular, and both reiterated promises to support whoever wins the Democratic nomination.
But while Sanders suggested he might have been less aggressive at this debate, he kept up a long series of policy attacks aimed at Biden. Both men reached back decades to frame their critiques -- often on areas that were covered extensively at previous debates.
Sanders criticized Biden for votes and positions on Social Security, the minimum wage, same-sex marriage, bankruptcy reform, trade deals, climate change, the Iraq war, immigration and abortion rights, among other areas.
“I want you just to be straight with the American people,” Sanders told Biden about his past openness to cuts to entitlement programs.
Biden brought up Sanders’ votes against gun-control measures and praise for authoritarian regimes. He repeatedly touted his experience in the Obama-Biden administration, and he accused Sanders of distorting portions of his record.
Asked how he would appeal to Sanders supporters to join his cause as the nominee, Biden responded: “He’s making it hard for me right now.”
Sunday night’s debate was the 11th of the race and the first featuring only two candidates. It was also easily the strangest to watch: Biden and Sanders greeted each other with an elbow bump and stood at podiums six feet away, in a cozy CNN studio in Washington and no live audience.
Both detailed the steps they are personally taking to avoid infection, including frequent hand-washing and abandoning retail- and rally-style campaigning.
Both nodded to who they are not. For the first time, Biden flat-out committed to naming a woman as his vice-presidential running mate, and Sanders said it would be his “very strong tendency” to do the same.
Both stumbled at times. Biden at one point referred to the current crisis over SARS. Sanders talked about the current crisis over Ebola and caught himself: “You got Ebola on my head here right now.”
The closest Biden and Sanders came to agreement was in criticizing the way Trump has led during this moment of crisis. They both called on the administration to step up testing and emergency responses, and to make sure that individuals aren’t forced to carry extra health care expenses.
“First thing we have got to do, whether or not I’m president, is to shut this president up right now,” Sanders said.
Even from there, though, their takes quickly diverged. Sanders used the coronavirus as part of his rallying cry for universal, Medicare-for-All health care.
“The dysfunctionality of the current health care system is obviously apparent,” Sanders said. “This crisis is only making a bad situation worse.”
“With all due respect to Medicare for All, you have a single-payer system in Italy,” Biden countered. “It doesn’t work there.”
Nothing that happened Sunday changes the stubborn delegate math that comes back into play Tuesday. Four more big states hold primaries, with Biden widely expected to add to a lead that Sanders is extremely unlikely to make up through the balance of the voting schedule.
This debate also seems unlikely to recapture the national attention, at a moment where Americans are worried about their lives, their livelihoods and everyday routines.
But if Biden is moving toward locking down the nomination, this isn’t the kind of debate he wanted to have.
“This is a national emergency. I don’t want to get this into a back-and-forth in terms of our politics here,” Biden said at one point.
Sanders is intent on keeping that back-and-forth alive. He remains cognizant of the movement he continues to lead -- and the stakes Democrats see in defeating Trump.
“I know your heart is in the right place,” Sanders said, in an exchange about climate change, “but this requires dramatic, bold action.”
Biden, Sanders intensify fights even as coronavirus dominates debate: ANALYSIS originally appeared on abcnews.go.com