Bernie Sanders was “off” during his first debate night as the frontrunner, former Bill Clinton campaign strategist James Carville said.
Sanders’ crushing victory in last weekend’s Nevada caucuses solidified him as the top contender for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, alarming party centrists like Carville, who fear that the socialist is too radical to beat Donald Trump in November. For his part, the Vermont senator isn’t used to being top dog — and it showed in South Carolina, Carville said after the debate, according to Breitbart.
“Bernie Sanders, this is the first time he’s really gotten roughed up a little bit, and he didn’t like it,” the 1992 Clinton campaign mastermind told MSNBC. “He looked like he had a cold.”
Another fiery debate
It was another fiery debate all around — former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg also took plenty of hits, especially from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), for his record on race and his treatment of women — but as the Associated Press reported, it was obvious who the No. 1 candidate was. The more moderate candidates warned that Sanders is too extreme to beat Trump and that he would cost Democrats the House and Senate, and the senator also took a beating over his qualified praise of Fidel Castro, his radical policies, and his record on gun control.
“Can anyone in this room imagine moderate Republicans going over and voting for him?” Bloomberg asked of Sanders. “You have to do that or you can’t win.”
Indeed, Sanders faced by far the most scrutiny of any debate yet — and he seemed to crack a bit when he shouted back, “Really?” at a heckler in the crowd who booed his defense of Castro. At other moments, he appeared to relish the onslaught. “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why,” Sanders opined.
If it was an “off night” for Sanders, it was a wild spectacle for viewers watching back home. Candidates frequently shouted over each other as the moderators struggled to keep control, and even former Vice President Joe Biden didn’t hide his frustration with getting cut off. “I’m done being quiet, okay?” he grumbled.
Meanwhile, Sanders’ position to the left of the Democratic Party establishment was clear. But he was also targeted for being too moderate in the past — namely, for supporting a 2005 bill that protects gun manufacturers from liability if their firearms are used to commit crimes.
Biden adopted that line of attack and touted his role in passing the 1990s assault weapons ban. It was a crucial night for Biden, who has been betting on black support in South Carolina to keep his campaign alive.
Scrambling to stop Sanders
But it was also a big night for Bloomberg, the latest hope of the party elites, whose performance in the last debate was dismal at best. On Tuesday, the New York billionaire tried to pin Sanders as the choice of Vladimir Putin, a canard now very familiar to supporters of Donald Trump. (Reports surfaced last week, just a day before Nevada’s caucuses, that Russia wanted to interfere on Sanders’ behalf.)
Carville, who has attracted attention for his displeasure with the current trajectory of the Democratic Party, has also sharply criticized Sanders and his supposed Russian sympathizers. The strategist lamented Tuesday that “[Vladimir] Putin is doing everything that he can to help Trump, including trying to get Sanders the Democratic nomination,” according to the Washington Examiner.
It may or may not be true that Russia wants to help Sanders, but that makes little difference if Democratic voters nominate him. Party elites had best come up with a plan to stop him before it’s too late.