Sanders Fails to Inspire in Debate With Biden

March 16, 2020 Updated: March 16, 2020

News Analysis

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders did little to change the downward trajectory of his campaign in the March 15 one-on-one televised debate with frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden, sources say.

The CNN-Univision debate, held in the nation’s capital without an audience to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, came days after the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont announced he planned to stay in the race for the Democrats’ presidential nod, despite a series of devastating primary losses.

The two men, whose lecterns were placed six feet apart according to officials’ safety recommendations, didn’t shake hands, opting instead to cordially rub elbows. The other candidate, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), didn’t qualify to appear in the debate under DNC rules.

On March 11, Sanders admitted his campaign was not going well but claimed a moral victory.

“While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” he said, apparently referring to Biden’s electoral success. “This is what millions of Democrats and independents today believe.”

Highlights of the debate included Biden’s vow to select a woman as his running mate and to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court. Sanders was more vague, saying “in all likelihood,” he would put a female on the presidential ticket. Sanders also vowed to reserve half the seats in his cabinet and his administration for women.

“My cabinet, my administration will look like America,” he said. “Last I heard, over half of the people in America are women. And that will be the representation in my cabinet and my administration.”

Biden promised to halt removals from the country and support citizenship for 11 million illegal aliens. “In the first 100 days of my administration, no one, no one will be deported at all. From that point on, the only deportations that will take place are commissions [sic] of felonies in the United States of America.”

Sanders denied that he supports open borders, calling the accusation leveled by President Donald Trump “a total lie.” Illegal aliens have been in the country for decades and “are good people” who “are living in terror.” We have “to end that terror and end the ICE raids and move toward a path towards citizenship,” Sanders said.

The debate hurt Sanders, but only a little, according to a post-debate poll of likely primary voters by FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos.

Of the respondents, 36.7 percent said they would consider voting for Sanders, down from 38.7 percent before the debate. Biden’s support rose to 66.6 percent, from 63.2 percent before the debate. The changes were much smaller than those seen in some of the previous Democratic debates, the pollsters noted.

Tom Del Beccaro, a former chairman of the California Republican Party and author of “The Divided Era: How We Got Here and the Keys to America’s Reconciliation,” seemed to speak for many observers when he said the debate failed to move many people.

“Bernie Sanders failed to land a game-changing blow while Biden avoided making mistakes serious enough to derail his candidacy,” he told The Epoch Times.

Joe Myerson, a longtime Democrat and retired publisher in Massachusetts, who had supported home state Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy until she dropped out March 5, said Sanders’s debate performance made it clear that he couldn’t support the Vermont senator.

“I thought Bernie did not help himself by playing the same old song over and over again,” Myerson told The Epoch Times.

“Bernie’s rants brought home to me that Sanders really is a socialist, not a social democrat, as I thought. He might not be a Marxist, but he’s way beyond the pale of electability in the United States.

“Therefore, his performance, and Biden’s calmer demeanor, made me a pretty strong supporter of Biden. I was not before the debate. I hate to use the adjective ‘strong’ in referring to my support of Joe Biden, because he just doesn’t inspire passion. But defeating Donald Trump amounts to a national necessity, and Biden seems to have the support of centrist Democrats and undecideds,” Myerson said.

Strategist David Axelrod, a former White House adviser to then-President Barack Obama, didn’t seem impressed by either debater.

On the climate change issue, “there are a lot of people—especially young people—who simply want to hear @JoeBiden say that it is an existential threat and would be a sacred mission for his administration,” Axelrod wrote on Twitter.

Sanders “speaks in moral imperatives, and Biden responds in a programmatic way,” he wrote.