I watched most of tonight’s Democratic debate. It was a pretty dull affair.
To the extent there were fireworks, they occurred after the debate, albeit in the form of something that didn’t happen — a non-handshake.
During the debate, as expected, there was an exchange between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren about the latter’s allegation that the former told her a woman couldn’t defeat President Trump. The exchange was civil on its face. Neither party seemed angry about it at the time.
But right after the debate, Sanders extended his hand towards Warren, who did not shake it. The two then exchanged words. Neither seemed at all pleased.
In the long term, this dust up probably isn’t good news for either candidate or for the left. I think Van Jones spoke for many intelligent leftists when he described the evening as “dispiriting.”
For those who didn’t watch much of the debate (a group that likely includes many of our readers), here’s what happened between Sanders and Warren regarding the “he said, she said” dispute.
One of the CNN questioners asked Sanders about his comment to Warren that a woman couldn’t defeat Trump. The questioner, in effect, assumed a fact not in evidence — or at least proven.
Sanders denied making the statement and presented good arguments for why it’s implausible to believe that he made it. The idiot questioner (CNN’s Abby Phillip, I think it was), ignoring Sanders’s answer, then asked Warren what she said when Sanders told her that a woman couldn’t defeat Trump.
Warren said she disagreed and then launched into a spiel about how a woman could, in fact, defeat Trump. Her big applause line was that the men on stage have lost a large number of elections, but the women are undefeated. In addition, she said that no man on the stage has defeated an incumbent in 30 years. (Warren was off by a year. As Sanders responded, he defeated an incumbent in November 1990.)
In making her boast, Warren was riding the coattails of Amy Klobuchar who has an outstanding election track record. Warren herself has won only two races, both in Massachusetts where Democrats almost always win and where her margins have been unimpressive. She’s no electoral juggernaut.
But I’m pretty sure that Warren’s misleading rant played well with lefty feminists. And at the caucuses, it may help her pick up Klobuchar supporters in precincts (and there will probably be many) where the Minnesotan fails to reach 15 percent support, so that her people will have to caucus for another candidate.
Based on this exchange, it’s difficult to understand why Warren didn’t shake Sanders’s hand. The explanation must lie in what happened earlier — the conflicting stories about what Sanders said and maybe the anti-Warren script his supporters came up with.
If the script is used in the future, perhaps the option of saying “I like Elizabeth Warren” will be eliminated.
What are my general impressions of the way the candidates performed tonight? They are similar to my impressions of how they have performed in previous debates.
Biden wasn’t sharp, but he committed no gaffes during the 90 minutes (or so) that I watched. And he wasn’t really attacked by anyone.
Sanders commanded the stage early on and did an outstanding job of articulating (demagoguing might be the better word) far left positions on foreign policy. He didn’t have an answer to the question of how much his “Medicare for All” program would cost, and he took fire for that. However, it’s likely that 30 percent or more of Democrats who will vote in primaries or will attend caucuses don’t care what the answer is.
Warren was a little slow out of the blocks, I thought. However, after her rehearsed spiel about woman winning elections, she picked up plenty of steam. She might have gained a little bit of female support tonight.
Buttigieg, as usual, gave the most intelligent answers tonight. I doubt that he lit any fires, though.
Klobuchar, as has been the case since the few sensible candidates dropped out, gave the most sensible answers tonight. I doubt that she lit any fires, though.
Tom Steyer made no impression. He was a waste of time and space.
Did this debate change the shape of the race, either in Iowa or nationally? I doubt it. Certainly not for voters who have been paying attention.
For people tuning in for their first debate, who knows? The most likely scenario is that their views will, on aggregate, be similar to the views people who have been watching all along have formulated.
I suspect that Warren may have helped herself with female voters and Sanders with hard left male voters. But only marginally.
NOTE: This post has been modified to correct the identity of the CNN questioner who, I believe, took Warren’s side in the “he said, she said” dispute.