The Eleventh Democratic Debate: The Comeback Kid versus Burned-Out Bernie

The eleventh Democratic debate will take place this Sunday. Compared to the previous ten editions during this election circle, however, circumstances are going to be rather different.

Debate Eleven: a Whole New Ballgame

For one, there is the most obvious reason: the Corona pandemic, which has made its mark on the Democratic campaign trail also. The debate was initially scheduled to take place in Phoenix, Arizona, a coherent location considering that the delegate-rich Arizona primary will be conducted on March 17. On Thursday, however, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that the debate would now take place in Washington, D.C. instead, for precautionary reasons and to reduce cross country travel. The debate will also take place without an audience for the same reasons.

The debate stage in its entirety is also going to look different. What used to be a field too crowed to put all candidates on the stage at once has within the previous two weeks, turned into a two-person race. No Amy Klobuchar, no Elizabeth Warren, no Pete Buttigieg nor Mike Bloomberg are going to square off.

Biden vs. Bernie

The two last men standing, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will share the spotlight, which means little to no time to digress questions or being shouted down by an opponent. It also offers increased opportunities to expose Sanders’ ill-advised stance on particular issues.

During the tenth debate on February 25, Sanders had still been the favorite and, for the first time, was being treated as such. Meanwhile, Biden had been a political corpse with the majority of pundits and the public arguing his exit was only a matter of time.

Two and a half weeks later, Biden will enter today’s stage not only as the race’s leader (887 delegates to Sanders’ 731) but as the future Democratic nominee. Sanders, despite all his despondent rhetoric of these last days, and the attempts to appear as the nation’s coronavirus crisis manager while continuously claiming that he could still win, remains a closed case. And unlike Biden, whose political near-death experience ended via the reanimation efforts of the Southern states, in particular, Sanders he is highly unlikely to recover from his downward slide.

Biden is Winning Because He’s Not Bernie

The reasons for Biden’s resurgence are self-evident. The comeback of Joe Biden has provided him with immense momentum and a lead in national polls at 53.4 to 36 percent. However, it would be false to praise Biden for this turnaround solely. In fact, Joe Biden has been an imperfect candidate. However, compared to Sanders’ socialist message and apocalyptic ideology that has failed to work, Biden appears as the second coming of John F. Kennedy since Super Tuesday.

As such, Biden is likely to utilize today’s stage as his chance to address the whole nation and act as presidential as possible, a unifying candidate, and the party’s next nominee. Sanders, on the other hand, will throw the kitchen sink at Biden.

To say Sanders has nothing to lose at this stage, is an understatement, however. It thus begs the question of what Sanders can produce to affect the polling and the upcoming primaries, where Biden leads Sanders decisively in all upcoming four states of Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois – all of which are delegate-rich.

Advantage: Biden

Even more fortuitous for the Biden camp is that Sanders, so far, has shown limited to no creativity in terms of adjusting his message. Thus Sanders is going to give it his best shot to illustrate the contrasts between him and Biden, particularly in terms of social security. What will be interesting to see, however, is whether Sanders’ desperation forces him to attack Joe Biden’s credibility, his persona, or his son Hunter during the debate.

In the past, debate performances had the potential to impact upcoming primaries; today’s debate is unlikely to be one of these. Throughout the whole race, Sanders’ campaign has been facing one issue: Bernie himself. Even if Joe Biden started doing jumping jacks live on stage, and crumbled in front of a full-on Sanders onslaught this would not open a path for a miracle comeback, nor a way for Sanders to win any meaningful upcoming primary. Sanders’ race is run, and today should be considered his goodbye tour – with dignity, one would hope.