Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Six people entered the debate stage Thursday night to try and justify their campaigns’ viability to Nevada voters, and five of them spent large chunks of the time taking turns attacking a man who is not the incumbent President or the Democratic frontrunner.
It was an odd, but somewhat predictable night in Las Vegas as the top six Democrats running to be the Democratic nominee this year debated on key issues. A lot of the airtime was spent attacking Mike Bloomberg, who is a distant second to Sanders in recent polling, and Sanders actually got away relatively unscathed. Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Warren tried to keep themselves relevant while Biden was given a lot more airtime than you might expect given how far he’s fallen in the polling.
Here are the three who came out on top and the three who came out as unsuccessful.
Winners: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden
At the top of the list is Bernie Sanders. As I said above, the fact that everyone took turns attacking Bloomberg gave Sanders a lot of needed cover. He was able to withstand attacks on his health insurance plan, his health records, and other stances because everyone saw the low-hanging fruit that was literally everything Bloomberg has ever said or done.
Because of this, Sanders didn’t suffer any major setbacks or body blows from the others. This also gave Elizabeth Warren a chance to define herself a bit more, and she was able to go on the offensive – though at times her attacks felt too forced and sounded too grating. She clearly learned something from the last debate and didn’t try to engage Sanders in personal attacks, but directed attacks that would land better at the others.
One place she did not really aim any blows was at Joe Biden, who needed a good night in order to continue to try to build his momentum ahead of the South Carolina primary, which is where he’s building up his firewall. Just as unscathed on the night as Sanders, Biden was also allowed to redefine himself in relative safety.
Losers: Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Mike Bloomberg
The problem with a six-person stage is that if you aren’t among the three winners, you are among the losers, and while Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar weren’t necessarily bad at debating tonight, they weren’t stellar. In fact, toward the end, both of them bickering over whose experience was more important was not really a good look for either of them.
Buttigieg spent the night spouting off facts and stats but did not really separate himself from the other candidates enough to pick up voters from someone else. Klobuchar was in a very similar spot, but her insistence that her ability to get elected to the Senate in her state and her ability to vote on bills is somehow the most qualifying trait a candidate needs falls flat. Klobuchar’s success in the primary so far has been on the weaknesses of others. Tonight, there weren’t many to exploit, other than Bloomberg, so there is no one to take votes from.
But, Bloomberg? Bloomberg was beaten down almost all night and looked smug the whole way through. He wore the look of a man who knows his money is better than you, and he is not afraid to let you know his money is better than you. He outright said he’s not asking for your money. And while he did bodyslam communism and attack Sanders for having three homes despite all his “The rich are exploiting the poor!” talk, Bloomberg walked away with absolutely nothing that looked like a victory. He’ll probably maintain his base of support, but that’s just off media buys alone. There was nothing he could call a win.
The Bottom Line…
The fact that Bloomberg is even on the debate stage at all is a net positive for really every candidate on that stage except Bloomberg, but none benefitted more than Sanders, who could land some hits on Bloomberg and then giggle to himself as everyone else did, too. Bloomberg’s only effect on the race is to split the non-Sanders vote, giving the Democratic Socialist an easier shot at getting as many delegates as possible before the convention.
Essentially, it seems he’s buying the election for Bernie. One could even say he’s Berning his money.