Winners and losers from the South Carolina Democratic debate

Photo of Winners and losers from the South Carolina Democratic debate

Winner: Joe Biden

Perhaps his best debate to date, he was comfortable in an audience in a state that clearly loves Joe. The fact that this is his make-or-break moment didn’t hurt. He was focused and cogent. Unlike other debates, Biden didn’t lose focus mid-answer, or trail off into incoherence at the end of one. It still grates how he wrote every bill and passed every law and met every person and nothing ever got done without him. Also, his interrupting all over Amy Klobuchar on the gun issue was painful. But overall, in an obnoxious, poorly moderated debate, he did what he needed to do. Perhaps more than anyone on stage, he was cognizant of where he was, and what Saturday’s electorate looked like (Black). His final-answer promise of a Black female Supreme Court justice was pitch-perfect.

Loser: CBS News

We went from perhaps the best debate ever, last week, to one of the worst ever, Tuesday night. What a disaster, from the questions, to the moderation, to the way they shoehorned one last commercial break at the end, without nothing but a “goodbye!” on the other side, Taking ad money from both Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer for commercials was an added insult.

It was insulting that in a DEMOCRATIC debate, moderators spent valuable time asking about North Korea, China, Syria, and other issues that fail to inform the vote of a single Democratic primary voter. As a result, climate change, choice, unions, and other key progressive priorities were ignored.

About as insulting to viewers as any political ad. This was by far the worst moderation of any of the debates. As I said before, the parties do themselves a tremendous disservice by ceding debate agenda-setting to profit-hungry TV networks instead of directing it themselves

— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) February 26, 2020

Winner: Elizabeth Warren

Warren was the only candidate who didn’t think “loud=better”. She kept her composure and demeanor the entire debate, and even exploited the shitty moderation to good effect—more than once stepping in to answer a question without even bothering to raise her hand. Clearly, rules were for suckers, and she took advantage of the chaos.

Unfortunately, her performance wasn’t as strong as last week’s, and she should’ve pivoted off Bloomberg quite a bit more. There was no use in kicking that carcass dead. He isn’t siphoning votes from her. Bernie Sanders is. And other than some nods to effectiveness, she didn’t take him on directly.

Her best moments came in speaking toward intersectionality of the law.

�We can no longer pretend that everything is race neutral� @ewarren nails it!!! I�m tired of this �I don�t see race BS�.... #WokeAF #DemDebate2020 if your plans don�t incorporate people of color throw them TF out! Period.

— DanielleMoodie-Mills (@DeeTwoCents) February 26, 2020

And the Bible verse in her final remarks weren’t just smart for religious South Carolina, but show a facility with religion (she was a Sunday school teacher in Oklahoma) that would serve her well in the general election. (Also, this piece is interesting, about why Democrats like Matthew 25.)

Also, this is Warren’s pitch:

Sen. Warren has convinced me that Bernie isn't that worrisome. He'll never get anything done. SHE'S the freak who will show up with 17 idiotic plans every day and keep everyone up until it gets done.

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) February 26, 2020

Loser: Amy Klobuchar

On the plus side, Klobuchar and small liberal college-town mayor Pete Buttigieg didn’t bicker like siblings this week. On the negative side, she continued to give no reason for sticking around. Her warmed-over appeal to some mushy middle did nothing in a primary that is clearly being driven by both liberal ferocity (Bernie Sanders+Elizabeth Warren) and a desperate (and misguided) desire to find the most “electable” candidate.

She’s right that she’s not boring. I’ve said before—of all the senators I’ve met in the last two decades, she ranks among the funniest I’ve ever talked to. But that’s never translated to her public persona. (Hillary Clinton had the same problem.) She’s an afterthought, and is serving little purpose in the race.

Winner: Bernie Sanders

As was expected, Sanders took a great deal of incoming. However, he fended most off by simply ignoring the questions and talking about whatever it was he wanted to talk about. Obnoxious? Perhaps, but by the time he finished talking, everyone had forgotten the question. It was an effective debate tactic, and one that frankly, Mike Bloomberg should’ve used himself.

At one point, Sanders began looking flustered, unused to all the incoming, but he was bailed out by an opportune commercial break, and for the most part, in the second half of the debate, the rest of the candidates on stage forgot that they were supposed to challenge the frontrunner. A sustained attack might have damaged him more. So he either emerged with little overall damage, or the gun stuff, in particular, knocked him down a peg or two. I’m guessing the former.

Loser: Pete Buttigieg

See Klobuchar, Amy, above. He, in particular, was a victim to the shitty moderation, several times losing a scrum to Warren, and at least one time chided by the moderators for stepping in to answer a question—something pretty much everyone else had done. I’m no Buttigieg fan, obviously, but that was bullshit.

Loser: The billionaires

Mike Bloomberg’s carcass showed up on stage, just for Warren to kick it dead some more. It might not have been the most tactically smart move by Warren, but it certainly didn’t do Bloomberg any favors. He looked just as annoyed and petulant as he did last week. Apparently, debate prep didn’t help soften him up.

Also, he proclaimed loudly that he had “bought” the House majority in 2018. He corrected himself, mid-sentence, sure, but it was an accidental admission of his state of mind—that he buys whatever he wants. Including, he hopes, the presidency.

Tom Steyer … oh man. He wasn’t bad in his answers, the way Bloomberg was, and his brushing off Bloomberg’s excuse on taxes with a “I did it, it was easy,” was a debate highlight. But there’s no reason for him to be in this race. There never was. There never will be. He should go back to doing what he was doing prior—funding progressive efforts to turn our country Blue.

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