Trump Wins Dem Debate: Bernie Strikes Out as Biden Fails to Flop

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, greet one another before they participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The grumpy old white men who outlasted everyone else in the Democratic Party (except Tulsi, whom the DNC wants us all to forget about…) debated before an empty auditorium on Sunday, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-USSR) failed to strike a telling blow against the frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders had been banking on beating Biden on the debate stage to arrest the frontrunner’s momentum, but both men fumbled again and again, and both men appealed to their respective bases — which is bad news for Bernie and bad news for Democrats.

Bernie won’t be able to arrest Biden’s momentum, but Bernie’s voters won’t necessarily flock to Biden, either, when he (likely) wins the Democratic nomination. Sure, Sanders will endorse Biden, but “Bernie-or-Bust” is a real phenomenon. When Sanders didn’t drop out this past Tuesday after losing the pivotal swing state of Michigan, he showed his determination to stay in until the end of the race. He will divide the Democratic Party, whether he wants to or not.

Both Bernie and Biden took aim at one another while still focusing on badmouthing President Donald Trump. In a telling exchange, Sanders insisted he alone could drive turnout up enough to beat Trump while Biden referred to actual primary results.

Bernie noted that even a majority of Democrats in Mississippi — which heavily favored Biden — also supported his plan for socialized medicine, “Medicare for All.” He insisted that Democrats will have to get young people to turn out to vote. “I have my doubts that Vice President Biden’s campaign can generate that kind of energy and that kind of turnout.”

The former vice president countered that his campaign saw a “70 percent turnout increase in Virginia. And I didn’t even have the money to compete with this man in these states.”

Indeed, Biden’s campaign had almost run out of money, but the former vice president won state after state on Super Tuesday and on Super Tuesday II. “Bernie outspent me four, five, six to one, and I still won!” Biden said. Former 2020 challengers Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) flocked to the former vice president, unifying the party behind him. Meanwhile, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg proved that money does not buy votes.

Yet the eleventh-hour endorsements and the strong turnout only showed that Democrats have a healthy fear of endorsing a candidate whose victory would mean the Soviets belatedly won the Cold War. Democrats flocked to Biden for two reasons: the former VP backed many of the same policies as Bernie, and he represented the most viable challenge to Sanders after the South Carolina primary. In fact, Sanders revealed the similarities between his policies and those of Joe Biden when he quipped (on immigration policy), “That’s kind of what I’ve been saying throughout the campaign.”

For these and other reasons, Biden’s primary victories do not prove that Obama’s vice president would drive turnout to the levels necessary to defeat President Trump in November.

Bernie entered the Sunday debate with one central goal: knocking Biden down a peg so as to forge a path to beating him in primary contests going forward.

Bernie’s own weaknesses prevented him from decisively prevailing over Biden on Sunday night. Both candidates are in their late seventies, and age showed on the debate stage.

Sanders encouraged his supporters to “go to the YouTube,” a line that started trending on Twitter as viewers mocked him.

He later referred to the current coronavirus crisis as “the Ebola crisis.”

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