Recap: Donald Trump Won the South Carolina Democratic Debate

The real winner of Tuesday's chaotic Democratic debate in South Carolina wasn't on stage. Each candidate got a few good lines in, but no one candidate stood out in a way that will shake up the race. Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-USSR) has the momentum and former Vice President Joe Biden is holding out for a win in South Carolina. Biden, the longtime frontrunner, has fallen nearly ten points behind Sanders in national polls one week out from Super Tuesday.

Biden is likely to prevail in South Carolina, but it remains to be seen if this will reinvigorate his flailing campaign. This debate seemed unusually vicious and chaotic, making Trump look better by comparison.

While former Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-Church of Social Justice) did get a few good digs in at Sanders, candidates took aim at other competitors as well, significantly lowering the heat faced by the frontrunner. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-1/1024th of a Plan) hit hard against former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (D-PILES OF CASH), who uttered a Freudian slip about buying elections!

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Someplace Cold) remained her usual staid self but proved largely irrelevant, as did coal-investor-turned-green-activist Tom Steyer.

The debate perhaps proved most notable for its gaffes. Biden said nearly half the U.S. population died in the past ten years due to gun violence. He also insisted on getting more time to speak and burst out in anger twice when the moderators tried to move on. Indeed, the moderators often let candidates speak longer than their allotted time, for people not named Joe Biden. Perhaps they didn't want Biden to dig himself into too many holes...

Arguably the most hilarious moment came when we learned that Joe Biden won his election to the U.S. Senate in something like 24 hours. On Monday, the former vice president (and former senator) announced, "I'm a Democratic candidate for United States Senate." During the debate, a moderator referred to him as "Senator Biden."

On a more serious note, Warren dug into Bloomberg for his previous funding of Republican campaigns.

She also attacked Bloomberg for having allegedly told one of his pregnant employees to "kill it." While any such remark would have been horrific, it does seem slightly hypocritical for a supporter of abortion without limitation — even to the point of birth — to become indignant about an abortion suggestion.

While Warren focused on Bloomberg, Buttigieg actually turned his attention to the real frontrunner in the race. He rightly attacked Sanders for his "incredible shrinking price tag" when it comes to the cost of his socialist programs.

"Let's do some math. Senator Sanders at one point said it was going to be $40 trillion, then it was 30, then it was 17. It's an incredible shrinking price tag. He at some point has said it is unknowable... I'll tell you exactly what it adds up to. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, and the inability to get the Senate into Democratic hands," Mayor Pete said. He warned that Democrats newly elected in 2018 are "running away from your platform as fast as they possibly can."

When a moderator rightly called Sanders out on his "track record of expressing sympathy for socialist governments in Cuba and in Nicaragua," the socialist insisted, "I have opposed authoritarianism all over the world." He went on to attack Bloomberg and insist that Barack Obama praised some of Fidel Castro's programs as well.

Buttigieg raised the issue later on. "We are not going to survive or succeed and we’re certainly not going to win by reliving the Cold War, and we’re not going to win these critical — critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime," he said.

Despite these and other attacks, Bernie Sanders held his own. As The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel noted, Bernie got "the real pass" on authoritarianism. "Authoritarianism is part and parcel of all true socialist movements. You can't support socialism and oppose authoritarians. They are the same," she explained.

This is spot on. Sanders may insist his would be a smiley-face brand of socialism, but when push comes to shove, how will he react? A Heritage Foundation study found that taxing the rich at 100 percent would still fall trillions short of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Sanders has criticized the idea of having 18-23 different deodorant options, but that is exactly the point: a free-market consumer culture allows for a wide range of choices that allow for competition and niche tastes. A one-size-fits-all mentality cuts against the prosperity Americans prize and socialist governments historically became authoritarian because not everyone went along.

Liberty and prosperity are not the norm in human history — poverty and tyranny are, and the bloody history of the 20th century shows that socialism is a recipe for returning to that norm.

I sincerely hope Americans understand that and have the good sense to reject Bernie Sanders in November if he does indeed go on to win the Democratic nomination. While many think the clear contrast between Trump and Sanders would help the GOP, a socialist major-party nominee still represents a serious threat and a kind of belated victory for the Soviets in the Cold War.

Yet, as of now, conventional wisdom has it that Bernie would be the easiest candidate for Trump to beat.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put it well. "Every minute that goes by [Bernie Sanders] gets stronger. If you believe Bernie is bad for Democratic hopes and dreams in 2020 this is a pathetic effort to take him down. Biggest winner so far in [the Democratic debate] — President [Donald Trump]!"

Tyler O'Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.