In South Carolina Debate, Democratic Primary Descends Into Chaos

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What did we just watch? Last night’s Democratic presidential debatethe 10th so far this election seasonwent awry in a spectacular way…as long as you weren’t rooting for any particular candidate to look good.

Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg was probably the king of statements so jaw-droppingly tone-deaf we had to check with each other that we had heard right. But former Vice President Joe Biden had no shortage of awkward interjections too, and couldn’t stop grumbling impotently at the moderators about how he wasn’t getting his fair share of time.

Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) just seemed to want everyone to be normal, but no one else on stage (with perhaps the exception of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg) was really having it.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) got accused of being aided by Russia within the first few minutes of the show, first by Bloomberg“Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States. And that’s why Russia is helping you [Sanders] get elected, so you will lose to him”and then in a question one of the moderators posed to Buttigieg:

Why would the Russians want to be working on behalf of Bernie Sanders?

Teed up perfectly, Buttigieg (bless his heart) refused to play into the new coalescing Russia panic:

I will tell you what the Russians want. They don’t have a political party. They want chaos. And chaos is what is coming our way.

Buttigieg was referring to a potential 2020 match-up between Trump and Sanders. But it would also prove an apt foreshadowing of the ensuing debate. It wouldn’t be long, for instance, before Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) accused Bloomberg of telling a female staffer to “kill it” when she said she was pregnant.

WARREN: When I was 21 years old, I got my first job as a special education teacher. I loved that job. And by the end of the first year, I was visibly pregnant. The principal wished me luck and gave my job to someone else. Pregnancy discrimination, you bet. But I was 21 years old. I didn’t have a union to protect me. And I didn’t have any federal law on my side. So I packed up my stuff, and I went home. At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, “Kill it,” the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said…

BLOOMBERG: I never said that. Oh, come on.

Moderators moved on to whether Bloomberg’s office jokes were offensive and to non-disclosure agreements before coming back to the alleged abortion comments.

KING: Senator Warren, that is a very serious charge that you leveled at the mayor.


KING: He told a woman to get an abortion. What evidence do you have of that?

WARREN: Her own words.

KING: And, Mayor Bloomberg, could you respond to this?

BLOOMBERG: I never said it, period, end of story. Categorically never said it. When it was accused—when I was accused of doing it, we couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. But right now, I’m sorry if she heard what she thought she heard, or whatever happened. I didn’t take any pleasure in that. And we’ve just got to go on. But I never said it. Come on.

WARREN: What I asked the mayor to do is to do a release of all people who have discrimination claims…

BLOOMBERG: We are doing that, Senator.

O’DONNELL: We want to get to the—we want to get to the issue—we want to get to the issue of electability and the ideological difference within the Democratic Party.

We would later see Klobuchar and Biden argue for an embarrassingly long time about whether or not Biden authored a particular bill and a whole lot of shouting about doing math.

Though candidates did manage a minor bit of substantive talk, on things like health care and Bernie Sanders’ comments about Cuba, the night concluded with contenders being asked about the “the biggest misconception about you.” That ended things on a perfect encapsulation of candidate and campaign anxieties (and bad jokes):

STEYER: The biggest misconception about me is that somehow I’m defined by business success and money.

KLOBUCHAR: The biggest misconception is that I’m boring, because I’m not.

BIDEN: I have more hair than I think I do.

SANDERS: Misconception—and you’re hearing it here tonight, is that the ideas I’m talking about are radical. They’re not. In one form or another, they exist in countries all over the world.

WARREN: Well, I suppose one misconception is that I don’t eat very much. In fact, I eat all the time.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the biggest conception—misconception—is that I’m not passionate. I get that I’m kind of level, some say unflappable.

BLOOMBERG: Misconception, that I’m 6 feet tall.

Full debate transcript here. Other Reason coverage:

See also: Who won the Democratic debate in South Carolina?


More on Bill Barr, Section 230, and encryption. At techdirt, Berin Szoka, Ashkhen Kazaryan, and Jess Miers follow up on an explainer about last week’s Justice Department (DOJ) “workshop” considering this online communications law with some speculation about “what DOJ’s real objective” was. “The answer to us seems clear,” they write:

use Section 230 as a backdoor for banning encryption—a “backdoor to a backdoor”—in the name of stamping out child sexual abuse material (CSAM) while, conveniently, distracting attention from DOJ’s appalling failures to enforce existing laws against CSAM. We conclude by explaining how to get tough on CSAM to protect kids without amending Section 230 or banning encryption.

Ultimately, “the workshop will allow Barr to claim he’s getting tough on CSAM without actually doing anything about it—while also laying the groundwork for legislation that would essentially allow him to ban encryption,” they suggest.


“It’s worth considering the possibility that both the Trump and Sanders phenomena are more or less about what their leaders say they are about,” writes Matt Yglesias at Vox. But:

Sanders’s basic point about the threadbare nature of the American welfare state is clearly true, as is Trump’s basic point that the nature of American society is changing. It’s not surprising that they may cause worries for people.

Indeed, one might expect to see people worry more about this kind of thing during a period of prosperity, which allows them to vote their values and ideals rather than worrying so much about economic management.

This is all by way of Yglesias debunking a popular chart purporting to show “why people feel financially stressed in a booming economy.”


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