BOSTON (CBS) – Going into Tuesday night’s CBS News Democratic presidential debate, we had questions. Here are some of the answers the candidates provided:
Q: How would front-runner Bernie Sanders handle the heat?
A: Not very well. Sanders’ competitors must be kicking themselves for not hitting him harder earlier in this race, because being on the defensive isn’t his best look. In one especially bad moment, Sanders was struck dumb by loud booing as he attacked Joe Biden for his votes on trade and the Iraq War. In an effort to turn the tide, Sanders turned uncharacteristically self-effacing: “I have cast thousands of votes, including bad votes.” Paging John Kerry: you’re off the hook for “”I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”
Q: Could Joe Biden come up with a slide-ending performance?
A: Maybe. This was easily his strongest debate effort. In front of what sounded like the most Joe-friendly crowd of the campaign, Biden hit Sanders hard on gun control and his 2012 disparagement of then-President Obama’s performance. As the debate wore on he returned to his comfortable habit of insisting he wrote or passed key legislation on whatever topic they were discussing, which may have reached a point of diminishing returns. But it’s hard to believe Biden hurt himself, which hasn’t always been true of past debate showings. And he delivered one of the night’s best ad-libs when he became one of the few candidates to obey a time limit “Why am I stopping, no one else stops,” he said. “Catholic school training.”
Q: Could Pete Buttigieg seize the mantle of chief moderate alternative to Bernie?
A: He sure gave it a good try. Buttigieg’s ability to calmly-but-forcefully speak in impressively-complete paragraphs – approached onstage only by Elizabeth Warren – continues to stand out. And I thought I heard some gasps from the audience at times as he repeatedly shredded Sanders, at one point linking him with the migraine headache sensation of the Trump era: “Imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Sanders vs. Trump. Think about what that will be like for this country.”
Q: Would Warren directly contrast herself with Sanders?
A: Yes, finally. Her best attack came when she noted the lack of real math accompanying the Sanders Medicare-For-All plan. “I dug in, did the work, and then Bernie’s team trashed me for it.” Later on she hit him for opposing repeal of the Senate filibuster rule. And her summation clearly stung Sanders: “Progressives have got one shot and we need to spend it with a leader who will get something done.”
Q: Could Michael Bloomberg recover from his deer-in-the-headlights Nevada debate performance?
A: One advantage of Bloomberg’s Vegas egg – it lowered expectations to subway level. And while he didn’t exactly light up the sky over Charleston, I guess you could say Mike sorta got it done, mostly because it was Sanders taking the worst drubbing. Plus, Bloomberg was ready for a question about whether his nanny-state campaigns against fatty foods and sugary tonic would be replicated from the White House. “What’s right for New York isn’t necessarily right for every city,” he quipped. “If it was we’d have a naked cowboy in every city.”
Q: Would Tom Steyer effectively back up his all-in bet on South Carolina?
A: He had a few decent moments, and delivered a reasonably eloquent argument for considering slavery reparations.
Q: Could Amy Klobuchar offer a reason to continue running?