Winners and Losers of the South Carolina Debate

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The tenth Democratic debate hosted by CBS News in South Carolina is, thankfully, over. The first hour felt like it took 45 days, and the second hour was thankfully less chaotic, but a lot more boring.


The chaos played out in the worst ways, and it led to an often-confusing orchestra of yelling children hoping to get their next jab in or defend themselves from someone else’s jab. As much as the moderators only existed to remind us of rules that didn’t matter and were arbitrarily enforced.

Despite the chaos, it was clear that there were some winners and some losers during this debate.

Winners: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar

Despite the constant whining about getting cut off while others weren’t, Joe Biden had a solid performance tonight. It was a performance he needed in order to (hopefully) hold on to a lead come the South Carolina primary. If he cannot come away in first place in South Carolina, it is all over for him – at least in appearance. Still, he was able to get the message he needed across. He touted experience, and specifically experience within the Obama Administration. That will help him stay in the good graces of many black voters, and hopefully help stop the bleeding that some polls have shown.

That bleed shows black voters heading to Bernie Sanders’ camp, however, and that’s not good for Biden. Sanders was targeted more tonight than in other nights, but he was allowed to bypass key issues without much challenge, opting instead to bring in straw men to fight his fights for him. It was with Sanders that the moderators were shown as ineffective at best, and downright powerless at worst. The fact that he was able to shrug off the key issues of paying for his plans, his affection for authoritarian communist regimes, and his support for legislation that gave gun manufacturers immunity from prosecution (one of the issues Sanders has actually been right on, historically) says as much about moderators who didn’t press him to answer the questions instead of avoiding them as it did about the opponents who couldn’t land blows on those issues.


But, one of the few people to get a word in against Sanders and do so effectively was, surprisingly, Amy Klobuchar. She had a good performance, allowing herself to get in ideas and subtle jabs at her opponents without running afoul of the debate rules (often). This gave her a very composed look and sound and was enough to get more camera time than others on the stage. She may not come in the top three in South Carolina, but I would not be surprised to see a bump in the polling.

Losers: Elizabeth Warren, Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg

The problem here is that none of these candidates did a particularly bad job (even Bloomberg, though somehow Woke Mike Bloomberg somehow comes across as more racist than Unwoke Mike Bloomberg), that they couldn’t break into the top three makes this a rough night of them.

Pete Buttigieg came across the worst of all, simply because he would use interruptions to try to land jabs at candidates, but they were lost across the rest of the chaotic interruptions of the night, and while he was the loudest, he also seemed the weakest because of it. I think the arguments he made for himself are and were better made by Klobuchar, who comes across as way more human than he does. He doesn’t appear to have much of a path forward and, frankly, it would be way better to see his voters slide on over to Klobuchar and her make a better run of it.


Meanwhile, you have Elizabeth Warren who simply cannot exist in a race where Sanders also exists. She can try to make the same points and have more details and data, but she lacks the charisma of Sanders and the energy that his campaign and supporters bring to the race. At this point, even if she won’t admit it, she knows her campaign is effectively over.

And Mike Bloomberg’s advisers had one job: Teach him to not come across as a smug jerk… and they failed him. He cannot help but sound condescending to everyone, and he cannot make any point sound good with that tone. He is only in this race because he is dropping obscene amounts of money on the race. That’s the only thing keeping him afloat, and eventually it won’t be enough.

Thanks For Playing: Tom Steyer

Thanks to this debate, we were all reminded that Tom Steyer is a thing that is still happening to us, and even in the middle of the debate, we forgot he existed until the moderators, who were also shocked he was even still on the stage had to read his name in order to direct a question to him. Steyer is a less rich and less effective Bloomberg, who himself is an incredibly ineffective candidate. Steyer’s existence is a mystery to us all. Why are you, Tom Steyer? What is the point of you?


The Bottom Line

The funniest part of the night is the fact that several of the candidates pointed out “This is how you get Trump” and the audience… cheered? I don’t quite understand what happened, other than the Forces Of Chaos won tonight, and the Democratic Party has a long way to go before it can unite… if it ever does.


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