Bernie Sanders needs a wing and a prayer to overtake Joe Biden in the delegate count. Last week’s resounding defeat in Michigan, a state that represents the working-class voter Democrats must pick off from Donald Trump if they hope to reclaim the White House in November, was a bad omen for the Sanders campaign and a metaphorical nail in his coffin. The next month of primaries is going to be absolutely brutal for the Vermont senator, whose approval ratings among African Americans, Americans over the age of 45, and suburbanites is below sea-level.
Sanders knows he’s on borrowed time and already surely realies he has lost the Democratic presidential primary to Joe Biden. So the audience-free debate in Washington, DC on Sunday was less about winning delegates and more about using the forum as an opportunity to move Biden closer to the left. The old revolutionary had nothing left to lose and laid it all on the line, aggressively needling Biden on every issue imaginable and treating the two-term vice president as if he were the defendant on the witness stand.
Anybody who has followed Bernie Sanders over the last five years shouldn’t be surprised about his performance on Sunday. Bernie may be a member of the political class he so often rails against — he has been a lawmaker in Washington for nearly 30 years — but he is anything but a traditional politician. He doesn’t glad-hand people or treat them with kid gloves, nor is he particularly interested in unifying the Democratic party or giving the party’s presumptive presidential nominee the benefit of the doubt. If Biden was expecting Bernie to lay down and play dead, he was in for a rude awakening. Not only was Bernie alive and well, but he was pushing the envelope and getting on Biden’s nerves. At times, it felt like Bernie was the boxer in the ring hitting his opponent with a left-right combination to the side of the head.
‘Have you been on the floor of the Senate…time and time again talking about the necessity — with pride — about cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare, cutting Veterans’ programs?’ Sanders asked Biden incredulously. When Biden replied ‘no’, Bernie encouraged the audience to go on ‘the YouTube’ and watch then-Sen. Joe Biden talking about sacrificing social security on the Senate floor.
‘You were not a fan of Bowles-Simpson? You were not a fan of the balanced budget amendment, which calls for cuts in Social Security?’ Sanders followed up.
The senator then proceeded to effectively call Biden a liar, telling him to be honest with the American people about his record. Why, Joe, did you support going to war in Iraq when everybody at the time could see that the Bush administration was lying about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction? Why, Joe, did you support trade agreements that ripped the industrial Midwest of its industriousness? Why, Joe, are you so timid in taking on the fossil fuel industry when nothing short of a dramatic war on the oil and gas companies will suffice? Is there a reason, Joe, why you have so many super PACs and billionaires supporting your campaign? And on and on it went for two hours.
Biden tried to act like the statesman. He is clearly looking past Bernie Sanders and would rather the white-haired, spectacled Vermonter went away so he could begin a full-court press against Donald Trump. However, the former vice president couldn’t be too presumptuous lest he fail to attract the support of Bernie’s most frenzied fans, who may not vote in a general election if the democratic socialist isn’t on the ballot.
At times, Biden used facial expressions one would use when talking with a crazy uncle during Thanksgiving: ‘what on earth is this man talking about? Can we wrap this up, please?’
The vice president did as well as could be expected. He actually performed far better on Sunday than he has in most of the other debates, perhaps because the one-on-one format gave him additional time to talk. But for Biden, the objective wasn’t to win the debate — it was to assure the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes and Ilhan Omars of the world that he would represent their priorities well enough.
With his prickliness and prosecutorial manner, however, Bernie Sanders made that job a lot harder than it needed to be.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.