Tonight is truly one for the history books. It’s the last debate with any consequence. It’s very simple: either Biden or Bloomberg wins this one, or it’s going to be raining Sanders from now on.
I really believe the age of debates is over–television debates at least. But there’s one more debate racked into the firing chamber; one more that can have national consequences, and it’s happening tonight. If there’s any debate you should watch, this is it.
The television debate era began in 1960, when Nixon, sick as a dog and looking like it because he eschewed stage makeup, debated a well-rested and prepped Kennedy. Radio listeners scored the debate a tie, but millions of viewers overwhelmingly handed the win to Kennedy, and thus was born the made-for-TV debate.
The era ended pretty much in 2016, when Donald Trump decided to skip the Iowa debate, and host a competing event to raise money for veterans (eventually, veterans groups got the money, and a judge hit Trump with a $2 million order for playing fast and loose with his foundation). Skipping the Iowa debate not only didn’t hurt Trump, the buzz it generated also helped him fill his earned media warchest. After that moment, debates were dead, and the age of made-for-reality-TV political spectacle was born.
Bernie Sanders has little to lose at tonight’s debate. He merely has to be himself, which he has no trouble doing. The one thing anyone can appreciate about Bernie is that there’s not an affected bone in his body. He couldn’t put on an accent to save his life, and he wouldn’t even think about trying to quote what a Texan might say. Bernie has the added advantage of never lying–he believes all his bull excrement, even when the fresh patties he lays contradicts the more seasoned bull excrement he laid a year ago. Real socialism means believing in socialism when the facts are against you (and with socialism, the facts are always against you).
Sanders has a ceiling, which he hasn’t yet hit. He has a floor (about 14%), which he’s never gone below. All Bernie has to do is not lose the debate, and he may outperform expectations in South Carolina.
Joe Biden was really dying on the vine until a recent spike in South Carolina surged him back above 30%. That spike might have been the result of the Nevada debate, where Biden looked more like a living person versus an animated corpse spouting dementia-soaked grunts. But if Biden really wants to return to life, he needs to outperform himself in South Carolina, which means he has to win the debate or at least beat Sanders hands-down.
In the Nevada debate, it was a pig pile on Bloomberg, who had never appeared on the debate stage before, and thought it would be like pledge night at a frat party, with him as a senior wielding the “board of education.” But he ended up being the one saying “thank you, sir, may I have another.” Tonight, Biden must ignore Bloomberg and go after Sanders and beat him like a drunk peasant.
Bloomberg can’t afford another weak performance. All the money in the world (which from his spending, it appears Bloomberg thinks he has as his personal credit line) won’t save him from withering attacks on NDAs and comparing lesbians to equestrian beasts. Bloomberg has to rise up and fight. It appears he’s trying to do just that–he cancelled a CNN town hall to hole up and prepare. And he’s gunning for Bernie.
“The debate tomorrow night and the campaign in general … needs to be about one candidate and that’s Bernie Sanders,” Dan Kanninen, a top strategist overseeing Bloomberg’s states operation, said in a conference call with reporters Monday morning. “We’ve been saying for some time that the nature of this contest means someone with even a small plurality of delegates can come away with an outsize and disproportionate delegate lead.”
Funny that Bloomberg’s guy says things that the candidate himself seems to be confused about. Bloomberg isn’t even on the South Carolina ballot, and he’s not projected to win enough delegates on Super Tuesday to snatch the lead from Bernie. If Bloomberg is going to make everyone’s payday pay off, he’s going to have to viciously take down Sanders. I personally don’t think the guy has it in him.
All Sanders has to do is survive and get in a few zingers. If Sanders does well, you’ll hear the left-leaning media start to sing his praises soon after South Carolina. And it will be over but for the singing of the fat lady and the gnashing of teeth.
However, if Joe Biden or Mike Bloomberg can hit Bernie where it hurts–using small words, medical records and big facts, they might be able to abort his rise.
And, yes, of course, we will have Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Warren and now even Tom Steyer on stage. Any of these could spout a viral phrase or some meme-able moment, pointed at anyone or nobody in particular. When you’re polling under 10%, the target isn’t important, only hitting something other than yourself.
If one of those meme-bombs happens to smack Sanders, that would certainly help Biden and/or Bloomberg. If it hits elsewhere, then it can only help Sanders. If we could predict what phrase, what look or what semi-scripted answer was going to be the “viral hit,” we’d be getting the big bucks as campaign consultants. Unfortunately, nobody–not even the Russians–can predict what will be viral.
For no other reason than this is probably the very last debate that will even matter, you might be tempted to watch it. I think it will be worth your time, when your grandkids ask one day, “where were you for the very last debate?” You’ll be able to proudly tell them you saw it unfold, live and in color.