Democrats sound off on socialism during second night of debates

Democrats questioned the place of socialism in their party on the debate stage Thursday night.

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Moderators asked Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, if nominating a socialist would help Democrats beat President Trump.

"[President Trump] said he was going to stand up for working families, well President Trump, you're not standing up for working families when you try to throw 32 million people off their health care that they have and that 83 percent of your tax benefits go to the top 1 percent," Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, said. "That's how we beat Trump. We expose him for the fraud that he is."

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Democrats should distinguish themselves from socialists, saying: "The bottom line is, if we don't clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists."

"We can't promise every American a job," he added. "If you want to get health care coverage, I believe that health care is a right and not a privilege, but you can't expect to eliminate private insurance for 180 million people."

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand jumped in to add: "I disagree with both their perspectives. The truth is, there's a big difference between capitalism in one hand and greed on the other."

Once largely considered “taboo” and a “dirty word,” socialism — particularly, Democratic socialism — has seemingly started to trickle into the political mainstream in recent years, thanks, in part, to Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Earlier this month, Sanders made his case for Democratic socialism -- a system that promises Medicare-for-all, free public college and a $15-per-hour minimum wage, all of which have caused Republicans to dismiss him as too far to the left.

He defended the ideals as the "unfinished business" necessary to restore America to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal era if he's elected president in 2020.

Sanders' campaign platform will largely hinge on the promise to address the growing wealth inequality and guarantee economic rights that he feels all American's are entitled to. In January, Sanders proposed a plan that would impose higher estate taxes starting at $3.5 million with a 77 percent rate on billionaire estates.

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Democratic socialism pulls from both Democracy and socialism, per the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) website. Political theorist and activist Michael Harrington helped form the DSA in 1982.

“Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically — to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few,” the group states, noting to achieve a more “just society” many “structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”

Democratic socialists favor decentralization; they don’t necessarily want to create “an all-powerful government bureaucracy” but are not in favor of “big corporate bureaucracies to control our society either,” reads the website.

Fox News' Madeline Farber and Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.