Why you should care
Democrats missed their last real chance to shake up the race before Iowa.
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WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Last night’s Democratic debate — the last before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses — was the last best chance for the presidential candidates to throw haymakers in person and try to shift the course of the race. But with four hopefuls clustered at the top of the polls, no major battles ensued, and the fiercest exchange between Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders came only after the microphones had been turned off.
Why does it matter? The candidates are playing “Iowa Nice” in part because of how the Iowa caucuses are set up, with people migrating to their second choice if their first pick isn’t viable in their precinct. But it also shows how the top four all think they’re in solid shape, with polls showing Sanders, Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg all with a shot at victory. Going on the offensive could offend, particularly with Democrats consistently concerned first and foremost with who can beat President Donald Trump in November. While Sanders appears to be the slight Iowa front-runner, political insiders are mostly shrugging and waiting for the results to roll in. The cautious clash in Des Moines is unlikely to break the logjam.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Moment to remember. Everyone was primed for a Sanders-Warren fight, following a CNN story recounting a 2018 meeting between the two candidates in which Sanders allegedly said a woman couldn’t win the presidency. He denied the comment again on stage, while Warren maintained he said it, but they didn’t openly battle over the he-said-she-saids. Warren pivoted from the expected spat to the viral moment of the debate, in which she told the audience that of the candidates on stage, only the women — she and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — have been undefeated in elections, and only Warren has beaten a GOP incumbent in the last 30 years. Warren and Sanders then had an exchange about whether 1990, when Sanders beat a GOP incumbent, was actually 30 years ago. But it was only afterward when the U Can’t Touch This moment arrived, with Warren refusing to shake Sanders’ hand and the two of them having what appeared to be a sharp exchange of words, off-microphone.
Did Biden win by default? While Sanders and Warren will get the headlines, Biden’s still polling well ahead of either of them nationally. He didn’t make a huge impression, but the debate’s early focus on foreign policy plays to his strengths. Letting the two more progressive candidates fight it out for second place may be a winning strategy for Uncle Joe.
Identity politics. While much was made of the viability of female candidates, nobody mentioned the fact that every face on the stage last night was White. The three major candidates of color — Cory Booker, Julian Castro and Kamala Harris — all dropped out before the first caucuses. Though who knows, they may return as vice presidential candidates down the line.
Deep freeze. The debate showed that the candidates are going to leave their harshest attacks to their proxies, but for three of the top contenders, they will have to leave most of the actual campaigning to others as well. Trump’s Senate impeachment trial is slated to start Tuesday, meaning Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar will have to be off the trail and in their seats six days a week — likely through the caucuses. This helps Biden and Buttigieg, who can make their closing arguments directly to caucusgoers on the trail, but the media oxygen sucked up anew by impeachment will also help preserve the status quo muddle.
WHAT TO READ
“Maybe there’s grand strategy behind the tiff with Bernie (consolidate liberals) but the ‘he said-she said’ on whether a woman can win the White House is unresolvable unless there’s a tape.”
“‘Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections,’ she said. ‘The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women, Amy and me.’ Warren’s claim is correct.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Iran Takes Center Stage at Democratic Debate
“Obviously Mr. Trump has no strategy. He is going from crisis to crisis, from escalation to escalation.”
Watch on Washington Post on YouTube:
The Democrats Debate It Out in Iowa
“This is the biggest thing to happen in Iowa since the last time this happened in Iowa.”
Watch on The Late, Late Show With James Corden on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Hey, it works for Trump. Unable to qualify for last night’s debate, Michael Bloomberg — or at least his campaign Twitter account — went rogue while the event aired, posting #DebateFacts like “debate moderator Wolf Blitzer can devour an elk carcass in one sitting” and “Mike can telepathically communicate with dolphins.” The billionaire didn’t meet the Democratic National Committee debate requirements because he hasn’t accepted donations; national polls place him fifth, ahead of debate stage participants Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer, as he pursues the unorthodox strategy of skipping the first four states and concentrating his massive cash advantage on Super Tuesday.