Thursday, February 20, 2020


Late in the debate, after Alberta posted this, Warren did take Bernie Sanders on briefly, but in a debate that will be best remembered for her strong performance, she and others mostly left Sanders alone.

I don't know why the rest of the field (with the occasional exception of Mike Bloomberg) gave Sanders a pass. Do they think all of his supporters are unbudgeable cultists? Exit polls in New Hampshire do show that most Sanders voters chose him well before Primary Day, but 17% of voters who decided on a candidate in the last week voted for him. That was 4% of the primary electorate (25% of voters were late deciders). Not every Sanders voter is a diehard.

It would have been tactically wiser for Warren to attack Sanders, but I think she was operating last night on principle -- she'd decided beforehand that she was going to try to dominate the debate, but her specific line of attack, a critique of Bloomberg's sexism and use of wealth to avoid consequences, seemed heartfelt. (Where's the word "authentic" when you need it?) Bloomberg's sexism and use of financial power to insulate himself from accountability seems to infuriate Warren -- and Joe Biden's follow-up about Bloomberg's option of releasing complainants against his company from non-disclosure agreements suggests that, for all Biden's touchy-feely behavior, he also genuinely cares about mistreatment of women.

I don't agree with this. To save his campaign, Biden needed to dominate last night. He was better than usual, but Warren was the strongest debater by far. If Biden could cut into Sanders's front-runner status in Nevada, it would create an opening for Warren as well. Maybe moderate voters came away from the debate believing that Biden is a better bet than those two squabbling kids, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, but Biden still operated in Warren's shadow last night. (Maybe we can hope that the moderates will give Warren a second look.)

Did Warren destroy Bloomberg's candidacy?

Nahhh. He's not dead. Sad to say, but Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times is probably right:
But it is not clear how, or even if, his performance might affect his prospects. Mr. Bloomberg is offering audiences an unsentimental bargain, in some ways, pitched less at the heart than the gut. These are extraordinary times, the argument goes, requiring extraordinary interventions — up to and including an ultrarich, party-switching Manhattanite hard-wired to replace another.

Voters do not need to fall in love, Mr. Bloomberg’s allies say. They need only to fall on the right side of the question underpinning his campaign: Can anyone else really be trusted to take down the president? And if not, then why not default to the man with the biggest budget for political weaponry?

“Mike Will Get It Done,” read the signs at his events. The means are generally left unsaid.
How long do memories of debate performances last? Amy Klobuchar seemed to benefit from a strong performance just before the New Hampshire primary -- but is she sustaining the momentum? Bloomberg had a terrible debate last night, but he's not on the ballot in Nevada or South Carolina, and he'll spend tens of millions of dollars on ads between now and Super Tuesday (March 3), when he'll actually be on ballots for the first time. There won't be another debate until March 15.* So I expect him to survive (and do a lot more debate prep).

And yes, I wish Democrats had directed more attacks at Trump last night. If the parties were reversed, that's what Republicans would have done. But it's easier if you're a Republican -- there isn't a wide range of opinions on the right, so GOP debaters are free to attack Democrats. The Democratic Party represents an electorate with a broader range of opinions. It tries to speak to moderates, liberals, and Sandersite progressives. There was intraparty fighting last night because Democrats genuinely disagree on stuff, and they care about those disagreements.

Warren didn't fight with Sanders because she agrees with him on many issues. She fought with Bloomberg because his sexism and cavalier use of wealth galls her. Maybe Democrats' biggest problem right now is sincerity.

*UPDATE: sorry, I was wrong -- there'll be a debate in South Carolina on Tuesday. I wonder if Bloomberg will show up.

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