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A raucous gameshow in Charleston

The purpose of tonight’s debate should have been to rain blows on Bernie. Most candidates failed

February 25, 2020

10:46 PM

25 February 2020

10:46 PM

At one point in tonight’s Democratic debate in South Carolina, Mike Bloomberg referred to the other candidates as ‘contestants’. The evening certainly felt like a raucous gameshow. The moderators had no control whatsoever. Everybody had a good time. There will be some nice parting gifts, such as nominations to secretary of State or other offices, should there be a Democratic win.

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is dead — it has been for weeks — but she insists on dragging it around and sticking its rotting corpse in the faces of the other candidates. She’s not happening and no ‘selfie line’ (actually just a photo line) is going to change that. 

The presence of Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren, two people with no shot at winning the Democratic primary whatsoever, starts to feel suspicious at this juncture. Are they there to draw votes from the others, only to predictably endorse Bernie Sanders? The rumor among the political set is that Warren has struck a deal for VP with Sanders. It’s possible — but just as possible is that Warren is eyeing a contested convention where she makes the argument that she’s palatable to Bernie’s fans, having similar politics and having only attacked him before the actual primaries began, but less crazy. 

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More than anything it was a debate of continual missed opportunities for everyone not named Bernie Sanders. The candidates continued to behave as though everyone doesn’t already know their biographies. Yes, Elizabeth Warren has brothers who were in the military. Yes, Amy Klobuchar has an Uncle Dick up in a deer stand. Joe Biden has any number of friends named Fritzel, or Fizzle, or possibly both.

Anyone still watching this debate, three contests in and on the eve of the fourth, for the debating skills of the candidates is missing the point. Did Bloomberg do well? Did Sanders stumble? Did Elizabeth Warren start all her answers with ‘so’ and ‘look’? It’s all irrelevant. There was one purpose in this debate and that was to land rhetorical blows on Bernie Sanders. The candidates mostly failed to do that. 

Pete Buttigieg seemed ready to take some jabs at the front-runner but was constantly interrupted by the moderators. At one point he used the international relations question to return to health insurance and take a rather meek shot at Sanders for his proposal to get rid of private insurance. This should be the club with which to beat the Sanders campaign, yet none of them, certainly not the deceased Warren campaign, is looking to do that. 

Joe Biden’s last stand is this weekend in South Carolina. He may still win the state and try to force a two-man stand-off with Bernie Sanders. But he is increasingly incoherent, saying at one point that 150 million people have been killed by guns since 2007. He doesn’t seem up for running this race: the people around him should help him bow out. 

That leaves Mike Bloomberg, the savior many Democrats are hoping will step in and save them from a Bernie Sanders candidacy. Bloomberg, who currently has zero delegates and is not on the ballot in South Carolina, needs big wins on Super Tuesday or his campaign too will be rendered pointless. 

But all of this is horserace intrigue and speculation that is unlikely to happen. Bernie Sanders is careening toward the nomination and, judging by tonight, little can stop him.


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