Democrats fail to blunt Berine Sanders’ popular appeal in debate

Bloomberg New Hampshire | Updated on February 08, 2020 Published on February 08, 2020

Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer on stage during the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, US, on Friday, February 7, 2020.   -  Bloomberg

Six Democratic presidential candidates all tried to stop Senator Bernie Sanders momentum in a New Hampshire debate on Friday night. They didn’t.

The desperation to prevent Sanders from being the nominee was on full display. They saved some of their fire for the other leader in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg, but it seemed clear they are most worried about the possibility, which is not entirely out of the question, that the Democrat’s nominee to take on US President Donald Trump would be a self-described socialist they all plainly fear would lose.

And if any of his rivals hoped for a breakout performance to halt Sanders’ momentum, it didn’t come. At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour debate, there was no clear alternative.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who acknowledged he took a gut punch with his fourth-place standing in Iowa, put in a decent performance, but like previous decent performances, its unlikely it moved the needle in his favour.

Buttigieg, fresh off a performance in Iowa that appears to have won him more nominating delegates than any other candidates, took flack from all sides for his inexperience, his record on policing and his support from big-money Democratic donors. He fended off the attacks well, but appeared to feel the heat from his new found front-runner status.


Senator Amy Klobuchar was well equipped with her characteristic one-liners — “Who does that?” she said repeatedly about Trump’s unusual approach to the presidency — but she still didn’t seem to break out of middle ground.

Friday’s forum was the last debate before New Hampshire holds its primary on Tuesday. After the chaos and uncertainty that Iowa inserted into the Democratic race with its antiquated caucus and high-tech snafus, candidates are counting on clear, measurable results from a traditional primary.

Sanders is favoured to win New Hampshire, but recent polls showed Buttigieg cutting into his lead. Warren and Biden trail, and the rest are barely competitive.

Bernie is ‘too extreme’

Sanders stuck to his populist message. “The way you bring people together is by presenting an agenda that works for the working people in this country, not for the billionaire class,” he said.

As vigorous as the attacks on Sanders were, they were conventional arguments that his passionate supporters have already rejected. “He’ll explode the deficit: Bernie says that you have to bring people together and we have to have Medicare for All,” Biden said. “And he says he wrote the damn thing. But he’s unwilling to tell us what the damn thing is going to cost.”

“He’s too extreme: Sanders’ approach to governing is my way or the highway,” Buttigieg said.

His democratic socialist label is a liability: I think that’s the label that the president’s going to lay on everyone running with Bernie, if he’s a nominee, Biden said.

“He’s yesterday’s candidate: The biggest risk we could take at a time like this would be to go up against that fundamentally new challenge by trying to fall back on the familiar,” Buttigieg said.

But the Iowa caucuses showed that those attacks will not deter Sanders’ base of young voters who see Sanders’ revolution as the antidote to millionaire and billionaire politicians.

Strong message

Sanders characteristically did not back down or tack away from his more unpopular positions. One exception: His 2005 vote to protect gun manufacturers from product liability lawsuits. “The world has changed and my views have changed,” he said.

On economic issues, Sanders has held the same message for 40 years, and that makes him hard to stop, especially in a state that is less than 80 miles from his Vermont home, and where he beat Hillary Clinton by 22 percentage points in 2016.

Even former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg interjected himself into the debate without being there, tweeting in response to the other candidates digs at billionaires that he was the only one who could beat Trump.

Published on February 08, 2020
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.