On Tuesday, six candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination had a substantive debate with strong but (mostly) fair questions from the CNN moderators. Each candidate performed well, but CNN seemed to have it out for Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-USSR). Naturally, the network found a way to lose against a septuagenarian socialist — so that #CNNIsTrash started trending on Twitter.
By “substantive,” I do not mean “correct.” The moderators started out of the gate with questions on Iran, and the candidates claimed that the disastrous Obama Iran Nuclear Deal was working — when, as my esteemed colleague Matt Margolis rightly pointed out, it was not. When asked if he supports the USMCA trade deal, Sanders said no — because it does not have the phrase “climate change” in it!
Billionaire Tom Steyer surprised with a call for term limits, and all the candidates expressed sympathy for new parents who struggle with the high cost of child care — that struggle is very real, especially in the Washington, D.C. area; sometimes it feels like Mordor just doesn’t want you to have children. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) insisted that college education is not the only path forward: “We’re not going to have a shortage of MBA’s, we’re going to have a shortage of plumbers.”
Heck, even (former) Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-Church of Social Justice) seemed to have an epiphany. The liberal who constantly berated “so-called conservative Christians,” suggesting that followers of Jesus must find themselves in the Democratic Party, finally admitted that “God does not have a political party.” There was a lot to like in this debate.
I often think of debates as an opportunity for gaffes, and former Vice President Joe Biden did have an embarrassing moment where he forgot the name of Iranian Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani. However, the candidates generally did not make fools of themselves during the debate — with the exception of their off-base liberal claims, of course.
If there are few gaffes, I often consider debates an opportunity to judge winners and losers. Yet on Tuesday night, each of the six candidates on the stage was in some ways a winner. Klobuchar got in her talking points — “practical and progressive at the same time,” “a plan not a pipe dream.” Biden complained about Republicans having “savaged my surviving son,” Hunter Biden. Buttigieg mentioned his history as a veteran. Tom Steyer had a surprisingly strong answer to the charge of hypocrisy — this climate change activist made his money by investing in coal. When faced with a direct question on that history, he emphasized his climate activism over the past ten years.
If any candidate could be seen as the definitive winner, it was probably Bernie Sanders, because CNN’s bias against him was palpable.
Video of one particular exchange went viral. In the lead-up to the debate, multiple news outlets reported that Sanders had told Sen. Elizabeth Warren (1/1024th of a Plan) that a woman could not win the presidency. This would conflict with Sanders’ history, to hear his supporters tell it. Even in 1988, Sanders said a woman could win the presidency.
During the debate, Sanders vehemently denied the allegation. Yet a moderator persisted in asking Warren a set question, acting as if Bernie had not denied the story.
A moderator asked Sanders, “You’re saying that you never told Sen. Warren that a woman could not win the election.” The Vermont senator replied, “That is correct.”
Immediately after this interaction, the very same moderator asked Warren, “Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” To that, Warren shamefully responded, “I disagreed.”
Politico‘s Dan Diamond was one of the many who shared the video on Twitter.
MODERATOR: You’re saying that you never told Sen. Warren that a women could not win the election.
SANDERS: That is correct.
MODERATOR: Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election.
WARREN: I disagreed. pic.twitter.com/8UUKONNaCY
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) January 15, 2020
This was far from the only episode of anti-Sanders bias during the debate. Sanders supporters shared screenshots of CNN’s chyrons, which attacked Bernie throughout. “Warren supports a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada; why is Sanders’ opposition to it wrong?” asked one chyron. “Sanders’ proposals would double federal spending over a decade; how will he avoid bankrupting the country?” pondered another. “Does Sanders owe voters an explanation of how much his health care plan will cost them and the country?” asked a third.
— Sam 🇭🇳 (@SamirLevi) January 15, 2020
As the debate ended, the CNN panel tore into Sanders, defending Warren.
CNN’s gambit backfired, and Sanders came out ahead. Warren performed fine, but the episode should raise questions about her reliability. An exasperated Sanders repeatedly asked what person in his or her right mind thinks a woman cannot win the presidency after Hillary Clinton won 3 million votes more than Trump. Warren comes off less trustworthy in this — and she has already proven herself unreliable in the past.
If CNN lost, Mike Bloomberg also lost. His campaign unleashed a barrage of attention-grabbing tweets — many of which were quite funny, but a few of which were downright bizarre. Whether or not Mike Bloomberg can fit 9 D batteries in his mouth, it was a mistake for his campaign to tweet about this. (Also, who wants ‘Brad Pitt” as a Secret Service code name?)
This debate will not likely push Sanders over the edge in Iowa. The caucuses are still a few weeks away, and Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Warren are effectively tied in the early-voting state. Iowa is anyone’s game, but Biden and Buttigieg likely have an edge because the impeachment trial is set to begin in the Senate next week, holding Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren back in the critical weeks before the caucuses.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.