Debate Preview: A Debate for Old Men

This debate is about two candidates. Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg. The others are garnish. Props. Facilitators. They exist merely to test our two protagonists. But what about Elizabeth Warren? See above. If Bloomie can’t handle her assault after getting a practice round, then he and his half-billion dollars (and counting) project is doomed.

The first couple national polls (YouGov and Morning Consult) to have data from immediately before and after the Nevada debate indicate Bloomberg lost a couple points and Warren picked up a couple. That’s not enough to make her a factor. Even if she fillets him again, it will be worth a couple more points at most. Perhaps enough to get her a few Super Tuesday delegates. Maybe enough to spare her the embarrassment of losing Massachusetts. Not enough to contend for the nomination. Bernie Sanders is just too far ahead of her.

She has her motivations to continue, and at the margins, she matters. But if you’re expecting her to do well in South Carolina just because she can cook Billionaire flambe, think again. Her presence is Bloomberg’s opportunity, not the other way around. It might not be fair, but it’s so.

You would think this debate matters to Bernie. In a way it does. He’s trailing Biden by a few points and if he gets the best of him in the debate it could be just enough to win South Carolina. If Bernie wins the state he lost to Hillary Clinton by a 3:1 ratio, Democrats have a nominee whether the party elders choke on it or not. But it’s also out of his control. Bernie is going to Bernie.

He’s been in roughly 20 of these between the 2016 season and this round. His answers are predictable. So is his rasp, intermittent anger, and ability to turn any moderator question or comment from an opponent into a chance to pontificate on one of his chosen topics. Bernie is also preaching to his choir. If Biden or Bloomberg can score some points on him, that will help them with the voters who are considering them, but it’s not going to take support out of Bernie’s pocket.

He’s an opportunity for them. Bernie already has everything he needs.

Tom Steyer is coming back to a debate stage near you. He’s also a likely third place finisher in South Carolina. He’s yet to say anything memorable. I’m not sure if Biden or Bloomberg will attempt to use him as a point of contrast. Steyer doesn’t have enough support after South Carolina for Bloomberg to care about him. But for Super Tuesday voters thinking about him, it’s important for Bloomberg to debate better than the other billionaire.

The polls say Steyer is holding some of the African American votes Biden needs to clinch a win. It’s up to Joe whether he wants to go directly after him or hope Jim Clyburn comes through with a Wednesday morning endorsement and that’s enough by itself. Somehow it feels unseemly to go after Dollar Store Bloomberg, but it might make sense anyway.

Finally we have our happy pair of moderate(ish) lane best friends. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, last seen pissing all over each other on the Nevada debate stage. Neither got the result they needed. Neither is viable. Mayor Pete needs about 11 things to happen to have a chance. Klobuchar’s odds are worse. At this point, she’s continuing out of spite.

Each will try to inject themselves into the conversation whenever possible. They’ll likely back off the brother and sister in the backseat of the family car on a long road trip before personal electronics were invented vibe. If either Bloomberg or Biden can dismissively swat them away once or twice, it could help. Otherwise, best to just ignore them like voters of color are.

I’m not sure this is how it should be. Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar have their virtues, not the least of which is being born after D-Day. It’s borderline insane there’s a 95% chance that the Democrat heading to Milwaukee this summer with the most delegates was born in 1941 or 1942 and will be older on Election Day than Ronald Reagan on his last day in office.

But one finished second last time, another was VP, and the third is worth more than the GDP of Bolivia (it’s not even close.) This may not be a country for old men, but it’s a debate for them. One has proven his verbal acuity in these settings. The other two need to if either wants to stop him.

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