Sanders did not defend himself very well
The Democratic presential debate in South Carolina was supposed to have been all about taking down Bernie Sanders. The previous two debates followed a similar pattern. After Pete Buttigieg performed unexpectedly well in Iowa, the following debate he was excoriated by everyone on stage. After Mike Bloomberg spent enough money to finance multiple presidential campaigns in just eight weeks, he was the next one with the crosshairs on his back. The former Mayor and lover of non-disclosure agreements was pulled limb from limb on the debate stage in Nevada.
After his landslide victory in Nevada and with his new status as the undisputed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination it was Sanders turn to take the heat. He was attacked from all sides and it did not make for pleasant viewing asevery single candidate on stage had a go at him in rowdiest debate so far.
Sanders did not defend himself very well. He didn’t provide a clear answer to how Medicare for all would be funded, had to repeatedly apologize for this stance on guns and in a moment that probably gave Chris Matthews a heart attack, defended his stance on Fidel Castro’s educational programs. Sanders is not a good debater, oftencoming across as curmudgeonly and inflexible and yet after the dust had settled it seemed like none of the punches landed, or worse still that none of it mattered. 2016 was the year of Teflon Don, no matter what outrageous thing Donald Trump the Republican nominee said it never stuck to him. 2020 seems like it might be the year of burn proof Bernie.
While the blowtorch was firmly on Sanders most of the night, not everyone left the building unscathed. Elizabeth Warren continued her public flagellation of former Mayor Bloomberg as she questioned his wealth, ethics, proposed plans and skewered him about his dubious professional record with women who have worked under him. One is beginning to wonder if public humiliation is Bloomberg’s kink. If it isn’t yet, it should be, because attacks like this are going to continue and he might as well enjoy it rather than suffer through it.
The worst part of about the debates is that people remember the sound bites and not the policy proposals. When Warren looked at Bloomberg and repeated the accusation that he told an employee to, “kill it” in reference to pregnancy it was a perfect gotcha moment. But it also takes valuable oxygen away from all of her other outstanding proposals such as childcare for all. This was also the debate where she should have differentiated herself from Sanders on the progressive wing of the party. She tried to, but her framing was just too subtle a point to make in what was glorified shouting match.
Former Mayor Bloomberg might have been hung, drawn and quartered two weeks in a row but he managed to put in a better performance than last week. He finally spoke about his record on guns and his environmental work, two areas where he has routinely showed that he was not only ahead of the curve but was trying to create a better future for all. The only problem with him is everything else. In the most astonishing moment of the debate, one which will most definitely get passed over and forgotten when he was talking about donating $100 million dollars to various Democratic nominees in the 2018 mid-term elections he started to say that he “bought” them the House majority. Yes. He. Said. That.
While Bloomberg was busy buying the House majority, Joe Biden had his best debate yet. While he continues to talk over women and everyone else, he managed to finally come across as a forceful moderate and not an angry old man. He spent a lot of time talking about his legislative victories and his history and it seemed to resonate with thecrowd in South Carolina. His real issue now is that even if he wins the state, he has been picking up endorsements around the country instead of poll numbers.
And finally, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg continue to take up valuable real estate and airtime on the Democratic debate stage. No one knows why.
Nader Rahman is a freelance journalist based in New York