(UPDATED with Trump tweet) The presidential politics in a time of pandemic in tonight’s one on one Democratic debate was no Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder, but Joe Biden certainly left an already struggling Bernie Sanders on the ropes.
In fact, in almost an antiseptic meet-up that was a throwback to 1960 in many ways, the focused former Vice-President initially took the Floyd Mayweather approach and sought to beat the Vermont Senator on points.
Pulled from its original venue in Phoenix, Arizona and into a near empty CNN D.C. studio over coronavirus concerns in an America that is shutting down by the hour, the 11th debate of this now streamlined primary season was way more PBS than WWE. That’s what the country was probably looking for as the current administration proves itself day after day to be the gang that can’t shoot straight or get test kits to where they are urgently needed.
With none of the twisted verbiage or significant gaffes that have plagued him on the stump and in past debates, frontrunner Biden came out of his corner in the second half, announced the future is indeed female and ended the whole thing with a VP TKO. Leaving moderator Dana Bash somewhat stunned, Biden made a solid dual promise to appointment a black woman to the SCOTUS and pick a woman as his running mate if his current delegate leads snags him the nomination at the Dems’ still scheduled Milwaukee convention in July.
Behind Barack Obama’s sidekick 890 to 736 in committed delegates in a field that has dramatically been decimated since the last debate of February 25, O.G. firestarter Sanders could only limp to the end. Playing to his own dwindling base, the Senator made a promise of his own to considering having a woman as his Vice-President. Promising to actively back Biden if the former VP is indeed the nominee, Sanders also took some more swipes at Trump that surprised no one who has seen the Senator in action in 2016 and this round.
Making it apparent he can do math and views Biden as his for for the general election, Trump offered his own review of tonight’s debate mere minutes after the affair wrapped up:
I must say, that was a VERY boring debate. Biden lied when he said I want to cut Social Security and Medicare. That’s what they ALL said 4 years ago, and nothing happened, in fact, I saved Social Security and Medicare. I will not be cutting, but they will. Be careful!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 16, 2020
OK, but fueled by win after win since the South Carolina primary on the last day on last month, Biden tonight locked in with African-American women who are the party’s core base. Additionally, the 78-year old ex-Veep never said the names of California Senator and past primary rival Kamela Harris or almost Georgia governor Stacy Abrams, but you can be damn sure that is what a good portion of America that was watching heard tonight as the two-time winning Obama coalition clicked firmly back in to place and undoubtedly cast a shadow over Trump’s re-election strategy.
Otherwise overtly lacking the la cascade du mepris, as the French say, against the incumbent that has occupied most of the past debates and more filled with the sort of bickering that you hear at a family Thanksgiving, the escalating spread of the deadly COVID-19 was the only real topic tonight. Well, that and how will Sanders bow out as a party unifier likely by the end of this week after Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona vote in their March 17 primaries – if the latest CDC recommendations of no gatherings of 50 or more allow them to go forward.
Yes, moderators Bash and Jake Taper of the Jeff Zucker-run cable newser and Univision’s Illa Calderon asked about healthcare, immigration, student loan forgiveness, the fiasco of the Iraq War and other Democratic party hallmarks, but coronavirus gave Sanders’ once strutting campaign an ailment the Senator couldn’t kick. Efforts to drag Biden into defending now toxic legislation like the 1994 crime bill or the Defense of Marriage Act fast tracked Sanders to the on-ramp to old news and offered his combatant the ability to cherry pick policies from the likes of Sen. Elizabeth Warren at his pleasure.
As my esteemed colleague Ted Johnson says of tonight’s debate: Given the mood of the country — most people have just spent a weekend isolating or going outside to empty streets — it’s hard to wrap my head around arguments over past votes or even their climate change proposals. I wish they would have spent more time just trying to reassure the American people.
Which is where Biden leaned in, even when the soft underbelly of his weak Hispanic support was spotlighted by extremely on-point Bash.
Already having taken up the POTUS pose with a shiv to Trump’s repeated stumbles and factual distortions in suitably comprehensive March 12 address on the coronavirus, an initially throat clearing Biden was staying the course tonight with Sanders. “This is a national crisis and I don’t want to get this into a back and forth in terms of our politics here,” the 47th VPOTUS asserted, acting like he was already the 46th POTUS as he has time and time again since his unprecedented Super Tuesday comeback.
“Regardless of if his plan is in place or mine, this is a national crisis, this is like we are being attacked from abroad … everything that you need in terms of dealing with this crisis would be free,” Biden told the time limit adhering trio of moderators.
As he has in every debate so far since this season of Survivor: The Democrats kicked off on June 26 when the candidates numbered in the double digits, the Vermont Senator on Sunday went after the former Celebrity Apprentice host, the absence of universal healthcare, big money in national elections and swore “the drug companies will not rip us off.” Despite a friendly atmosphere in the past week with mentions of his “friend Joe Biden,” Sanders threw it all down to either win over remaining primary voters or gain a hold on the party’s soul and convention platform.
Oddly, Sanders seemed out of his element and diminished by the occasion that gave him few opportunities to do little more that scratch at the once derided Biden’s veneer. When the once Delaware Senator said “people are looking for results not a revolution,” he gave the establishment fighting Sanders a further shove out of the mainstream. On the other hand, the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history found himself in the tall grass once again having to answer for his praise of dictator Fidel Castro’s educational polices – a stance that won’t make the Senator many friends in the Sunshine State on Tuesday.
To that, the cage matches and inward facing shoot’em ups that characterized past debates were long gone on Sunday as Biden and Sanders instead were looking at the greater event horizon of an America in the increasing grip of what is now formally a national emergency with 65 deaths and around 3,300 known cases here at home.
Virtually bunkered with no audience, a small studio that is usually used for election coverage and no Jorge Ramos, who bailed as a moderator because of possible coronavirus exposure, tonight was ultimately reminiscent of the Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman’s 2000 VP debate. Aging myself and outing my policy wonk true nature with that callback, I still say this was two old white guys who agree on 80% of everything but spar over electability, execution and what the leadership to get there looks like – and only one of them was thinking about actually taking the oath of office on January 20, 2021.
At one stage tonight Bernie Sanders told Joe Biden that “I know your heart is in the right place.” After what almost anyone with a heartbeat would determine is the worst week of Donald Trump’s consistently rocky tenure in the White House, Joe Biden wasn’t debating the man from the Green Mountain State tonight. In a nation taking nearly unparalleled public health, economic and social blows, the man from Scranton, Pennsylvania who rose from the political dead in the last few weeks was putting Donald Trump on notice that he is ready to rumble.