Tuesday's debate in South Carolina didn't rival last week's Nevada fireworks display, but it was far from boring. Plenty of votes were won and lost, but not enough to move the dial drastically. Bernie Sanders is still the frontrunner, Michael Bloomberg isn't going away, Joe Biden's ugly flameout continues.
Super Tuesday looms.
Sanders was clearly advised to keep his anger in check. Attacked on all sides, he largely succeeded in remaining calm. Bloomberg tried his best to needle the frontrunner, but Bernie merely smiled. His mantra--that socialist ideas aren't radical because they are practiced elsewhere--was his shield.
Elizabeth Warren jabbed Bloomberg effectively at first, then repeated a line allegedly uttered by the CEO in 1995 concerning an employee's in utero child: "Kill it." The audience yelled out in protest, and Warren was taken aback. Bloomberg categorically denied the remark. As a result, accusations flew that Bloomberg had stacked the audience.
With tickets ranging from $1,750 to $3,200, perhaps the audience simply identified with Bloomberg. At any rate, a Bloomberg spokesperson denied the charge. What no one disputed was the airing of a television ad for Bloomberg during a break in the debate. Host network CBS is clearly in bed with Bloomberg on that score. They may be hiring Sanders-friendly talking heads at MSNBC, but not at the Eye.
Pete Buttigieg had a decent showing. He shaved this time, ditching Nevada's five o'clock shadow look. He managed to turn off fellow veterans with his discussion of military service. Apart from that, Mayor Pete held his own, never shining particularly brightly, but never attacking with the doggedness we saw in his interrogation of Amy Klobuchar last week.
It was a surprise to see Tom Steyer on stage. He made the cut with some surprisingly strong polling numbers, coming in third in two recent polls and tied for fourth in another. He wore the same tartan wool tie, contributed nothing, and was called "Tommy Come Lately" by Biden.
Speaking of Biden, he was disastrous. He barely managed to string two sentences together without stumbling, going off on a tangent, or telling a whopper. The biggest snafus, by most lights: a claim that there have been 150 million gun deaths in the U.S. since 2007.
In other words, 11.5 million gun deaths per year for 13 years. I guess those Obama years were bloodier than most remember. Nearly half the country was killed? Hey Planned Parenthood, hold my beer.
That said, we've come to expect verbal errors from the elderly Biden. So surely, the worst was his line about respecting the time allotted for answers: "Why am I stopping? No one else stops." (Skip to 2:45:25)
Those are pretty bad. As Jason Miller of War Room: 2020 opines, Biden at this point has "mashed potatoes" between his ears. It's ugly, it's cringeworthy. But the worst part wasn't a garbled, word salad sentence. No, Biden's biggest mistake was simple. He claimed, in response to a panelist, "I will win South Carolina."
It's an epitaph.
Over the last six South Carolina primary polls, Biden has averaged just over a five point lead (5.16%). If we subtract the outlier, a 15 point win in a Public Policy Polling survey, his once daunting lead has dwindled to just 3.1%, near or beyond the margin of error of most polls. His incompetent showing last night could lose him the state. Even if he squeaks out a victory, it will be hollow.
And the yelling! Why all the yelling?! Biden is like turbo. I'll explain: when racing, professional drivers with turbo-assisted engines seek to keep the turbo boost spooled up. If the boost drops, the next time the driver punches the accelerator, there's a costly moment of "turbo lag," a sluggish response. Same with Biden. If he isn't shouting in indignation, he can't finish his sentences. He needs to keep it dialed up or he sputters.
Biden's Hail Mary: near the end of the debate, he delivered a line about nominating a black woman to the Supreme Court. From anyone else it would be seen as pandering. Give Joe this much: from him it seems like a legitimate promise.
Mike Bloomberg was good on the question of public vs. charter schools, but was otherwise a nonentity. Which is fine--his goal for the night was not to step on any more land mines. Make it out intact. And he did.
Bloomberg also acted as counterpoint to Sanders on the latter's biggest gaffe of the night. Caught off guard by a question on Israel--whether the U.S. embassy should be moved back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem(skip to 2:40:30 in the clip above)--Sanders stumbled, tried to turn the conversation to a slam of Bibi Netenyahu as a "reactionary racist" and then went on to state that the Palestinians' needs must be taken into account.
This is Sanders doing his required anti-Israel dance to pay his Squad dues. He's greasing the skids for the likes of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar. The problem? Israel is an important strategic ally, sure, but this kind of name calling frames Sanders as weak on foreign policy.
Then Bloomberg stepped in and hit his one homer of the night...almost. Bloomberg provided historical context, stated that the embassy will stay in Jerusalem, and that Israel's borders won't change. Then he struggled to describe new developments built in occupied territory and finished flat.
Amy Klobuchar was next to invisible, and when she did say something noteworthy, it was often offering up a folksy line in the context of a serious matter, such as the image of President Trump taking "hot dish" over to an international enemy. Forget that much of the country doesn't know what "hot dish" means, it's more of Klobuchar's inability to seem presidential.
She should be the nominee--she would be a great opponent against Trump on paper. She resonates with women, she has plenty of serious experience as a senator, and hers is a good American story. Then she opens her mouth. She comes across as a soccer mom.
Predictions: Biden will show poorly in South Carolina. The same for North Carolina. He will be out of the race by the end of March, along with Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Steyer. Warren will stay in. Bloomberg will not exit despite a mediocre Super Tuesday showing, and double down on spending.
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