She was perhaps less forceful with Sanders (I-Vt.), saying instead that she would be a better president and going after his staff. “I dug in. I did the work. And then Bernie’s team trashed me for it,” she said. “We need a president who is going to dig in, do the hard work and actually get it done.” One wonders whether she did much to help herself — especially given that last week’s debate didn’t seem to do much for her — but after the past couple of weeks, she will at least remain on voters’ radars.
Joe Biden: He has regularly been a loser on this list, and he was again somewhat uneven on Tuesday night. But he’s the leading candidate in South Carolina and a player on Super Tuesday on March 3, and he seemed likely to continue to be after the debate. Biden had some good moments, including in his appeals to black voters, which will be key on Saturday and on Super Tuesday. He noted his work to secure funding for Charleston’s port, and he talked about gentrification in a way we haven’t heard much in this nominating contest so far. Biden detracted from his performance a little by — again — repeatedly complaining about not getting enough time and blaming his Catholic upbringing for his obedience to rules about the length of answers. One thing to keep an eye on, though: When asked whether he would press on if he doesn’t win South Carolina, he said he would win. At this point, he better.
Bloomberg’s transparency about his money: There is kind of an unspoken bargain at play with Mike Bloomberg. It goes something like this: I may have only become a Democrat in 2018, and I may not be your ideal, but I can win — and oh, by the way, I have hundreds of millions of dollars from my own pockets to spend. Well, on Tuesday, that bargain came closer to being spoken. Early on, Bloomberg pitched himself by saying, “I have the experience, I have the resources, and I have the record.” Later, he noted that he spent $100 million to help elect House Democrats in 2018, but for a moment, he almost seemed to say that he “bought” something with that money. And in between, his ads appeared during the commercial breaks.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: After the candidates spent much of last week’s debate focused on Bloomberg even as Sanders is threatening to take over the race, Tuesday night represented a course-correction. Warren attacked Sanders for being ineffective. Pete Buttigieg said Russia is helping Sanders, as U.S. intelligence has stated, because the senator serves its purposes. “Russia wants chaos, and chaos is what’s coming our way,” Buttigieg said. “Imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump.” Tom Steyer warned about having the government “take over the private sector.” Biden mentioned the mass shooting in a black Charleston church in 2015 and noted that Sanders voted against the Brady gun-control bill five times, which prompted Sanders to acknowledge that it was a mistake. Later on, Biden and Buttigieg ganged up on Sanders for praising over the decades the good things authoritarian socialist regimes had done. It prompted Sanders to say early on: “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit. I wonder why.” Indeed. The question is whether it’s too little, too late by his opponents.
Mike Bloomberg: It just wasn’t much better than last week, which isn’t good. Bloomberg did little to make an affirmative case for himself, even on the electability front. And he offered mealy-mouthed rebuttals to some of the attacks against him, including again downplaying the women who complained about their treatment at his companies. Bloomberg said he was “probably wrong to make the jokes” but added, “I don’t remember what they were.” He called it a “comment or two.” When Warren pressed him, he said, “The trouble is with the senator, enough is never enough. … We did what she asked and, thank you, we’ve probably made the world better because of it.” Bloomberg has released three women from nondisclosure agreements and said his company would not use them going forward, but as Warren noted, he hasn’t released all of them.
The moderators: There were two big problems here. One was that this was a complete free-for-all for much of the debate, with candidates talking over one another and with no one enforcing the rules. Playing loose can work when it means the candidates actually debate, but many times on Tuesday night, they were just allowed to talk past the moderators and game the system. The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey put it well:
Second — speaking of gaming the system — was that the booing and cheering were out of control. There’s a reason many debates prohibit outward shows of support or dissent: because it encourages people to stock the room and play to the cameras. We don’t yet know whether that’s what happened Tuesday, but Bloomberg’s supporters were especially vocal, and Sanders found himself booed a surprising amount given he’s competing for a win in South Carolina.