The fight was on. The gloves were off. The knives were out. Whatever metaphor you prefer, Wednesday night’s vigorous Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas was worthy of the city known for hosting pugilistic prize fights.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren delivered a dominating and brutally effective performance that set the tone for the debate. She landed shots against each of the other candidates, carving up the newcomer to the stage, Michael Bloomberg, over his record on civil rights, his failure to release his tax returns thus far and his treatment of women.
Bashing on Bloomberg: Warren set the tone for the debate early on. “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against," she said. "A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.” Warren repeatedly used the billionaire former New York mayor as a proxy for the president, reinforcing the perception that she would be able to go toe to toe with Trump on a debate stage.
“It was the kind of aggressive performance that allies and even some of her campaign advisers had been hoping for, even if it marked a sharp shift from her recent strategy of appearing as an above-the-fray candidate who could unite Democrats,” Shane Goldmacher and Reid J. Epstein write in The New York Times. “She had one-liners. And twice she plowed through the weaknesses of so many of her opponents in a single answer that it left moderators struggling to even give everyone a chance to respond.”
Turning health care into a strength: One of those instances was on health care, which Warren managed to turn from a liability to something resembling a strength. She dismissed Pete Buttigieg’s “Medicare for All Who Want It” as little more than “a slogan that was thought up by his consultants” and said it would leave millions unable to afford their care.
“It's not a plan. It's a PowerPoint,” she said.
Then she turned to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, with what Kaiser Health News called a misleading attack. “Amy's plan is even less,” she claimed. “It's like a Post-It note, ‘Insert Plan Here.’”
Warren ended her barrage by hitting Sanders, saying he “has a good start, but instead of expanding and bringing in more people to help, instead, his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question or tries to fill in details about how to actually make this work. And then his own advisors say, yeah, probably won't happen anyway.”
But will it be enough to lift Warren’s chances? Warren’s team touted the fundraising boost she got during the debate, and her performance could reinvigorate her campaign, which also boasts a strong organization in Nevada and beyond. But more than 70,000 Nevadans took advantage of the state’s early voting, potentially undercutting any post-debate bounce. “Warren’s challenge will be how to carry forward her momentum and stay in the hunt until Super Tuesday,” Politico’s Christopher Cadelago said.
Sanders may be the real winner: Sanders faced attacks from Warren and other candidates over his Medicare-for-All plan, his identification as a Democratic socialist, the bullying behavior of some of his supporters and the fears that his candidacy will polarize the electorate. But he deflected most of those attacks and emerged from the debate largely unscathed.
“The story of this debate,” Politico’s Tim Alberta tweeted, “is Elizabeth Warren eviscerating all of her rivals except the one who happens to be the frontrunner and also happens to be directly obstructing her path to the nomination.”