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Struggling Democrats hit the wrong targets in Nevada

The real winner of the debate was Pete Buttigieg, though that’s unlikely to be the conventional wisdom

February 19, 2020

11:52 PM

19 February 2020

11:52 PM

Unlike the previous snoozers where all the candidates pretended to like each other, the debate in Nevada ahead of their caucuses, was exciting. It’s what happens when six politicians, picked to be on a stage together, stop being polite and start being real. But it’s unlikely to make a blip of difference. 

For one thing, most of the candidates didn’t do what was in their self-interest. 

Joe Biden had one real job — take the nomination away from runaway train Bernie Sanders. Instead, he let the Mike Bloomberg media campaign get into his head. Bloomberg isn’t on the ballot in Nevada and he isn’t on the ballot in the next contest in South Carolina either. The polling site FiveThirtyEight does not predict Mike Bloomberg winning a single Super Tuesday state. Sure, anything is possible and Bloomberg is gaining momentum at a good moment. But the reality is that Bernie Sanders is on track to win this nomination and this was Joe Biden’s last chance to stop him. He blew it. 


Elizabeth Warren also didn’t feel like attacking Bernie Sanders, the actual front-runner. Warren and Sanders both occupy the far left ‘lane’ of the Democratic primary and yet Warren decided to attack Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar instead of making any kind of play for Sanders’s voters. Warren might have ‘won’ this debate with her relentless attacks on Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg, and she’ll get yasssss queen’d in the land that doesn’t matter — Twitter.  But it won’t do her much good as Bernie Sanders hurtles toward being the Democratic nominee. A miss. 

Mike Bloomberg took a beating and that might be reflected in his numbers. But those numbers were mostly meaningless already.  Expectations are good, a great social media game is a plus but eventually you have to actually win some delegates and Bloomberg doesn’t seem poised to do that fast enough. Sitting out the first four contests is just not a winning strategy no matter how much the media wants to make the Bloomberg candidacy happen. Primaries are a game of momentum and the idea that Bloomberg would continue to climb, even after two more contests pass him by, is a stretch.

The real winner of the debate was Pete Buttigieg though that’s unlikely to be the conventional wisdom as the media continues to scramble around for an unstoppable savior to beat Donald Trump. Buttigieg’s attacks were sharp but they were also smart. He didn’t just focus them on Mike Bloomberg, like the others. He hit Amy Klobuchar, respectfully but forcefully, because they share a voting base and she was seen to be surging after the last debate. Buttigieg is quietly becoming the real alternative to Bernie Sanders for people who are uncomfortable with nascent communism. He currently leads Sanders by one delegate. It might not be thrilling enough for the media hoping for splashy stories involving late-coming billionaires, but it’s the reality of the situation. 

The candidates who fall now have their niceties in previous debates to blame. Before the debate Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said about his fellow Democrats, ‘our unity is our greatest strength’. This debate showed they should work on developing some other strengths. They chose to play nice for too long in the previous debates and now the desperation is setting in. You can smell it on Elizabeth Warren through the TV set. You can tell by which candidate (only Bernie) thinks the person with the most delegates should be the nominee even if they fail to meet the 1,991 threshold. It’s Bernie’s world now: the other candidates are just losing in it.


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