Debate night in America: Three full hours of left-wing geriatrics bickering with each other

8 p.m. ET on ABC. Congrats, everyone: With Kamala Harris having faded and Boot Edge Edge serving as a trash receptacle for left-wingers’ disposable income, the battle tonight really is down to Grandma versus the two Grandpas.


The winner is whoever falls asleep last.

Lotta moving pieces to this spectacle. Biden remains the prime target for the simple reason that he remains the frontrunner, although at least one poll has Elizabeth Warren pulling into a tie with him and virtually all polls have showed her gaining since the second debate in July. Because only 10 candidates made the cut for this one, everyone’s on the same stage — which means this is the first time Biden and Warren will face each other. Due to the luck of the draw, they ended up in different groups for the first two debates. She’s going to come hard at him for being a corporatist DINO; he’s going to come hard at her for being a big-spending phony who was happy to court rich donors until recently. In fact, Biden crony Ed Rendell published a splashy op-ed this morning in WaPo previewing that line of attack. Title: “I like Elizabeth Warren. Too bad she’s a hypocrite.”

Warren attacked former vice president Joe Biden for holding a kickoff fundraiser in Philadelphia in April, which she criticized as “a swanky private fund-raiser for wealthy donors” in an email to supporters the next day.

Well, I helped organize that affair, and I thought her attack was extremely hypocritical because nearly 20 of us who attended the Biden fundraiser had also given her $2,000 or more in 2018 at closed-door fundraisers in “swanky” locations.

Warren didn’t seem to have any trouble taking our money in 2018, but suddenly we were power brokers and influence peddlers in 2019. The year before, we were wonderful. I co-chaired one of the events for the senator and received a glowing, handwritten thank-you letter from her for my hard work.


Rendell told Politico this afternoon that he was getting ripped by the “Elizabeth Elites” on Twitter for his piece but added mischievously that the “Bernie Bots,” who normally detest him for his centrism, “really liked the column.” That touches on the central mystery tonight: Will Bernie come after Warren for being insufficiently socialist or will their nonaggression pact hold? If he holds his fire and she has a big night, she might bounce out ahead and never look back. If he attacks her, some Warren voters might be enraged and Biden might benefit long-term. No good options.

Team Biden has had enough of the media trash-talking their guy, meanwhile:

“I don’t know of anybody who has taken as sustained and vitriolic a negative pounding as Biden and who has come through it with the strength he has,” said a top Biden adviser. “So why isn’t the argument not that he’s a ‘fragile front runner,’ but instead why is this guy so strong? How is he able to withstand this? Because it is unrelenting. Every story that has been written about Biden for a month has been negative! I would ask Warren and Sanders and these folks: He’s been pummeled for months. For months! So why is he going to fall apart now?”…

They brandish the many predictions of his demise as evidence of their more sophisticated understanding of the Democratic electorate. “He’s still leading the race nationally. He’s leading in Iowa. It looks like he’s in a dead heat in New Hampshire,” said the top Biden adviser. “I don’t know why the story in New Hampshire isn’t how Bernie Sanders went from sixty to fourteen. And why is it that Biden is beating Warren in Massachusetts? And he’s way ahead in South Carolina. And this is all on the back end of really the most vicious press I think anyone’s experienced. So that to me is a statement of strength. And anyone who’s sitting around waiting for him to fall apart—you know what, it hasn’t happened yet.”


I wonder if that top advisor’s name rhymes with “Ed Rendell.” The good news for Team Joe is that tonight’s outcome will resolve their dilemma one way or another. If Biden does well in his first debate with the entire top tier onstage together, some of the “soft frontrunner” buzz will quiet down. If he doesn’t do well, it’ll get louder and it’ll seem perfectly justified. It’s not just Warren who’s coming for him either, needless to say. Harris is desperate to use this opportunity to turn her sinking campaign around; her best option to do that remains targeting Biden and trying to pry loose some of his black supporters, who have stayed loyal to him after a brief flirtation with Harris following the first debate. Cory Booker’s going to try the same approach — this is his moment to elbow past Harris as the most formidable black candidate in the race and make an impression on the South Carolina electorate.

As for the other five onstage, there isn’t much to say. Beto’s been warned not to curse. Joaquin Castro is running for VP. Klobuchar’s hanging around just in case Biden forgets his own name and centrists need somewhere to run. Buttigieg’s campaign is essentially one long fundraiser now. The only interesting figure in the bottom half of the top tier is Andrew Yang, whose campaign promised yesterday that he’d do something unprecedented onstage tonight — a tease which he’s been having fun with ever since:


A likable guy who’ll benefit from the extra attention he’ll receive tonight in a smaller debate crowd. He won’t be the nominee but there’s a nonzero chance that he’ll be in the top four(!) in the next round of polling if he does well this evening. Right now Harris is fourth in the field averaging 6.5 percent, Buttigieg is fifth at 4.8 percent, and Yang is sixth at 3.0 percent. But he actually polled a point better than Buttigieg in a recent Harvard survey and was just one point behind him and Harris in the latest from Reuters. He’s a wild card. I’m rooting for him.

One more thought about the big three before the debate starts, this time from RCP elections analyst Sean Trende. Every four years people start heavy-breathing about a brokered convention and every four years it doesn’t happen. It’s not as unlikely this time as it has been in the past, though:

The modern era of elections, where fundraising is effectively crowdsourced on the Internet and where candidates can reach millions of voters through social media effectively for free, seems to suggest that at some point in the next few cycles we will have a situation where no candidate wins a majority of the delegates. The Democratic Party seems particularly vulnerable to this outcome, since delegates are awarded proportionally (once candidates cross a certain vote threshold). This is unlike the Republican primaries where the final ones are winner-take-all; this is probably the only thing that prevented a brokered convention in 2016 on the Republican side.

This Democratic nightmare scenario doesn’t involve six or seven candidates making it to Super Tuesday – that is unlikely to happen. Instead it involves two or three candidates, and then a factional candidate who continues to draw 15% in the polls in most states and refuses to drop out as two other candidates duke it out. In other words, something like Biden vs. Warren vs. Sanders.


Right, Bernie might hang around to the bitter end even if he’s reliably landing in third place in primary voting, believing that he owes it to progressives to give them a pure socialist option on the ballot. There might even be tactical reasons for him to keep going, as some polls show that more of his supporters prefer Biden to Warren as their second choice and thus Bernie would be aiding the progressive Warren by hoarding those voters himself. Imagine if Biden finishes with the most delegates, Warren finishes second, and Sanders finishes third but with enough delegates that he and Warren together have a majority. Who’s the nominee in that scenario? Biden because he finished ahead or Warren because a majority of delegates are pledged to progressive candidates? (Presumably Bernie would endorse her too.)

The debate will air live on ABC and online on and on the ABC mobile app and on the ABC YouTube account — which is embedded below, so it’s virtually impossible to avoid this thing. Here’s your thread to comment.

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