The Last Primary Debate That Matters Ended in Chaos, and Bernie Sanders Survived

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The Last Primary Debate That Matters Ended in Chaos, and Bernie Sanders Survived

It can be annoying to watch the moderators on an MSNBC or CNN debate as they go into school marm mode and metaphorically slap the candidates’ wrists over and over to control their behavior, but after watching the disastrous shitshow on stage during Tuesday night’s CBS debate, I might owe an apology to the Anderson Coopers of the world. Clearly, their firm hands are needed, because the alternative is embarrassing chaos in which nothing gets communicated and nobody benefits.

Which, all things considered, was just fine for Bernie Sanders. Yesterday was the start of his Hell Week, and the last chance for any of the other candidates to confront him face-to-face. I’m not sure these debates strictly matter in terms of real support, but if they do matter, they matter in the negative—a candidate can certainly lose ground, as we saw with Bloomberg in the Las Vegas debate, but it’s still hard to gain support…as we saw with Warren in the Las Vegas debate. All of which means that to kill the frontrunner before Super Tuesday, they had to pile on now, because at the next debate he could be the presumptive nominee, and any bitter infighting then will look like a big favor to Trump.

They tried. But partly because the moderators couldn’t stop them from talking over each other, and partly because some of the charge was led by a human charisma vacuum named Michael Bloomberg, nothing really stuck. When the shouting ended, the 6-on-1 attack either benefited Sanders, or benefited nobody, as post-debate polling showed:

The lasting story out of this debate might not be anything any candidate said, but the optics of the DNC's move to charge exorbitant amounts of money for a seat in the audience. Tickets started at $1,750 and went up from there, which explains why nobody liked what Bernie was saying all night. More than that, it's just a terrible look from a party trying to shed the notion that they're for the people, and not the ultra-wealthy:

At the end, there was no clear victor—those margins only show that Sanders more or less treaded water in terms of his current lead—but more importantly, there was no clear loser. Bernie avoided Bloomberg’s fate from a week earlier, and I stand by my analysis from earlier this month, which is that it’s very very difficult to construct a narrative where he doesn’t win the nomination.

This whole thing can end on Saturday if Sanders pulls out a surprise victory in South Carolina. For Biden, and for everyone else, there’s no coming back from that. But even if Biden holds on, the polling in Super Tuesday states tells a clear story, and it’s that by this time next week, there won’t be much doubt about who’s heading to the general election to face Donald Trump.

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