Faux-mentum? First post-debate poll shows Warren rising to second place nationally

Maybe it’s a bum sample. After all, only once in the past six weeks of polling has she been as high as second nationally. But there’s at least a chance that it’s the start of a belated (too belated) trend: This is the first national poll conducted after last Wednesday’s debate, when she gutted Mike Bloomberg onstage before one of the largest audiences for a primary debate in U.S. history. The enthusiasm for her afterward produced a huge fundraising windfall. It’s not inconceivable that she’s suddenly back in the game and on the rise as an option for Not Bernie voters.

Which is probably good news for Sanders, actually. (Everything’s good news for Sanders right now, it seems.) Warren’s not taking his voters, who worship him; she’s probably taking voters from the likes of Buttigieg and Klobuchar. That is, she’s contributing to the muddle in the middle, hoping to become the quasi-centrist alternative to Bernie. More candidates dividing the centrist vote means an easier path to victory for Sanders, the candidate who’s consolidated progressives.

But just the possibility that Warren has a little momentum stirring is interesting, especially with another debate set for tomorrow night. Even with her recent donations surge, she can’t compete with Bernie or Bloomberg financially. If she wants to make a game-changing impression on a vast audience of Democrats, it’s on TV at the debate or bust. She’s destined to flambé Bloomberg again since that worked so well for her last week but there’s real suspense at this point as to whether she’ll come hard at Bernie too. It’s the last possible minute to hit him hard, but she’s effective while attacking. If she wants to distinguish herself amid a throng of centrist alternatives, laying Sanders out is the only way left.

Is she going to lay him out tomorrow? All signs point to … no. Watch as reporters lob a softball at her about Bernie being a risky candidate. She whiffs:

Her attack line tomorrow night on Bloomy is easy. He was stupid to try to appease her after she knocked him last week for his habit of signing women employees to NDAs; his weaselly concession on that point since then only invites Warren to revisit the issue and point out how weaselly he’s being. What’s her attack line on Bernie, though? He’s been hit repeatedly with the claim that he’s unelectable even though he’s the only candidate who’s actually won an election so far this year. Plus, the idea that he’s too radical to actually prevail is already priced into his stock. She could always try hitting him on the ideological substance of his radicalism, but that’s especially tricky for a fellow progressive like Warren. She shares the “deep animating belief” behind Berniemania that America is economically unjust and to prove it she’s gone as far as to align herself with his signature proposal, Medicare for All. Hair-splitting about the differences between his M4A plan versus her M4A plan or his free-college plan versus her free-college plan isn’t going to move the numbers dramatically.

She needs a moral case against Sanders to counter the moral case he’s making for socialism. Is there one that a left-leaning audience would respond to? If she uncorked a list of occasions on which he was a useful idiot for regimes like the USSR and Castro’s Cuba, would that do him any damage? The centrist group Third Way put out a memo on Saturday tearing into him for all sorts of reasons, from his left-wing radicalism to apologetics for rogue regimes to the deep irresponsibility of his spending plans. There’s a moral case there. It’s Warren’s for the taking.

I’m guessing she won’t take it. The time to declare war on Bernie was three months ago, not a week out from him wrapping up the nomination. If she goes nuclear now, he’ll probably shake it off, sweep Super Tuesday, and then she’ll need to heal the rift with him and with progressives in order to assume her role as a surrogate for him this fall. Besides, there’s a second new national poll out this afternoon, just as I’m writing this post, and, well, maybe that one up top is a fluke after all:

Looking at those numbers, it seems like tomorrow night is an opportunity for Bloomberg more so than Warren. He’s already mostly recovered from his drubbing onstage last week. If he has a good night this time, it might make things look a bit more like a two-man race.

Here’s Buttigieg on Saturday after Nevada finished voting, jabbing at Bernie.

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David Strom 12:40 PM | July 23, 2024