I didn’t watch the Democratic candidates’ presidential debate last night. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know it was taking place.
Based on accounts of the debate, I wish I’d tuned in. I take perverse enjoyment in seeing candidates I don’t like trying desperately to ward off defeat.
Elizabeth Warren is such a candidate. Not long ago, she was right on the heels of frontrunner Joe Biden, and favored to win the Iowa caucuses. Now, she’s running third nationally, with little more than half of Biden’s support. And the polls show her to be in fourth place in Iowa.
Pete Buttigieg leads in the Iowa polls. Thus, Warren’s goal in yesterday’s debate was to cut the South Bend mayor down to size.
You can’t say she didn’t try:
Warren led off the attack on Buttigieg, criticizing candidates who take contributions from wealthy individuals at high-dollar fundraisers, a policy she has eschewed as a presidential candidate.
Others in the field do this, including Biden, but Buttigieg chose to respond. “This is our only chance to defeat Donald Trump,” he said. “And we shouldn’t try to do it with one hand tied behind our back. The way we’re going to win is to bring everybody to our side in this fight.”
Warren hit back harder. “The mayor,” she replied, “just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine. . . . Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”
Buttigieg countered again. “This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass,” he said.
When Warren then said, “I do not sell access to my time,” Buttigieg fired back, noting that she had raised money in her Senate campaigns with the same kind of high-dollar fundraisers she was now criticizing. “Your presidential campaign right now as we speak is funded in part by money you transferred, having raised it at those exact same big-ticket fundraisers you now denounce,” he said.
“Purity tests you cannot yourself pass.” That’s a great line in general and a perfect line when it comes to Elizabeth Warren. Game and set to Buttigieg.
Buttigieg is also a huge obstacle to whatever hope Amy Klobuchar has in Iowa and beyond. She too went after the Mayor:
As Warren and Buttigieg were squabbling, Klobuchar broke in to admonish both for their exchanges. “I did not come here to listen to this argument,” she said. “I came here to make a case for progress.”
Minutes later, however, she launched into her own criticism of Buttigieg, accusing him of what she said was his previous mocking of the collective experience of many of his older and more experienced rivals.
Klobuchar’s disdain for the Indiana mayor had surfaced before. In last month’s Atlanta debate, she hesitated until the very end of the evening to challenge his youth, relative inexperience and male privilege, as she had done publicly along the campaign trail.
Her exchange with Buttigieg was less focused but no less pointed than the clash between Buttigieg and Warren. It also was less conclusive. What it revealed was both candidates’ apparent visceral dislike for each other.
“Visceral dislike.” I thought Amy Klobuchar was nice.
The winner in all of this has to be Joe Biden. He’s still the frontrunner, though not in Iowa. Yet, he remains mostly above the fray, watching lesser candidates skewer each other.
That, I’d have to have seen to believe.