“FORA,” the Forum on Ruining America, held another session tonight. Present were Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg.
The Democratic contenders finally realized that they need to aim their fire at Bernie Sanders, rather than on their fellow trailers. Even Buttigieg and Kloubuchar were able to resist skewering each other.
Only Elizabeth Warren seems not to have received the memo. She continued to savage Michael Bloomberg. Why she thinks she this will help salvage her failing campaign is beyond me. Maybe she just hates the guy.
Bloomberg, for his part, performed fairly well tonight. But even if voters are willing to overlook his disastrous debut, I still don’t see how a candidate with his record of moderation plus support for various Republican positions and conservative candidates can be the Democratic nominee for president in this era.
Bloomberg, by the way, is one of the worst I’ve ever seen — politician or non-politician — at telling a joke. At one point, he said he was surprised that his opponents showed up for this debate given how badly he had beaten them last time. Told by Ronald Reagan, the line might have worked. Told by Bloomberg, it fell flat. I think it took a while for the other candidates to recognize that it was a joke.
Maybe Bloomberg does better with dirty jokes.
As for the attacks on Sanders, I question whether they will set him back much. For one thing, most of the attacks centered on electability. The argument wasn’t so much that Sanders is wrong on policy, but rather that the boldness of his proposals make him unelectable and will bring down Democratic congressional candidates.
Sanders deflected this line of attack by citing polls that show him running ahead of President Trump. Moreover, many Democrats admire Sanders for his boldness, just as they did in 2016.
There were some substantive attacks on Sanders. The field emphasized the prohibitive cost of his Medicare for All proposal. This point has been raised from time to time in past debates. It did not slow Sanders down in Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada.
Biden attacked Sanders for past positions on guns. But this was a staple of Hillary Clinton’s attempts to discredit Sanders in 2016. It may have slowed him down, but he was still able to give Hillary quite a run for her money.
Buttigieg got in a good dig about Sanders’s admiring utterances about Castro’s Cuba. But outside of Florida, do Democratic primary voters care about this?
The other problem for the chasing field was that as the debate rambled on, the focus shifted away from Sanders. Overall, I would describe the attempt to take Sanders down as halfhearted and generally ineffective.
On the other hand, the attacks on Sanders did seem at times to get under his skin. Sanders also appeared annoyed, and maybe a little bit unnerved, by the hostility of the audience, which seemed to be packed with Bloomberg and Biden supporters.
Speaking of Biden, I thought this might have been his strongest debate performance yet. He even managed to get off the funniest line of the night.
Frustrated all night by the fact that the other candidates kept ignoring the time limit for answers, Biden finally wondered out loud why he kept stopping when time was up. “Must be my Catholic school education,” he said.
Biden has bet everything on winning in South Carolina. Asked whether he would quit the campaign if he loses there, Biden said only that he will win South Carolina.
Will he win it? The polls say he will, but so far Biden has substantially underperformed in relation to his polls in all three races.
He might do so again in South Carolina, but I think he may have helped himself with his debate performance tonight. I can even see the possibility of him gaining a little bit of ground on Sanders in South Carolina based on this debate.
Finally, a word about Elizabeth Warren. Arghhh.
Less might not be more when it comes to Warren, but more is certainly less.
I’m counting the days until she finally exits the race.