WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders duked it out Tuesday night, violently agreeing a woman can be elected president — while deciding not to let whatever was said between them in a private conversation about female White House viability get out of hand at the last debate before the first presidential vote in Iowa.
Takeaways from the debate in Des Moines with six candidates:
WINNERS: WARREN, KLOBUCHAR, BIDEN
• Warren on women winning elections was the outstanding part of the Democratic debate.
The flashpoint was the exchange about women candidates between Senators Warren and Sanders, capping off 48 hours or so of uproar about what the Warren camp asserted was a Sanders comment in 2018 that a woman could not win the election.
Sanders, the Vermont Independent, denied he said it, and Warren, from Massachusetts, did not press him. Rather than get ensnared in a she-said-he said, Warren had a better plan.
Warren said, “Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But, look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised, and it’s time for us to attack it head-on. And I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people’s winning record. So, can a woman beat Donald Trump?
“Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections.
“The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women ... Amy and me.”
Said Klobuchar, “So true.”
• Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., established herself as the presidential contender living in the real world — the one where reality intrudes every day. Talking about Sanders’ Medicare for All embrace, she noted the lack of support it has in Congress. This means Medicare for All is going nowhere. Yet the other Democrats, afraid of getting progressives mad at them, deny the reality.
Klobuchar deserves a lot of credit for straight talk. She was the only one to give this Medicare for All reality check. “This debate isn’t real. I was in Vegas the other day and someone said, “Don’t put your chips on a number on the wheel that isn’t even on the wheel.”
• Former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner, emerged unscathed as he played his caution card and did not go after any of his rivals. He had the strongest answer to the why are you the best commander-in-chief-question.
He may well win Iowa, with Sanders and Warren dividing the progressives. Klobuchar, further behind, may be able to consolidate the middle-of-the-road vote of folks who have reservations about Biden.
Biden used his Barack Obama card to dilute the easily anticipated question of why he voted to authorize the Iraq war — he’s been through this one a few times.
“It was a mistake, and I acknowledged that. But right — the man who also argued against that war, Barack Obama, picked me to be his vice president. And once we — once we were elected president, he turned — and vice president, he turned to me and asked me to end that war,” Biden said.
LOSERS: BUTTIGIEG, STEYER
• Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had a lackluster night. He was strongest in talking about his views informed by his own military experience. He relied too much on his arguments for generational change — which implied or said is part of his appeal. But you can only be young for so long.
“There are enlisted people that I served with barely old enough to remember those votes on the authorization after 9/11, on the war in Iraq. And there are people now old enough to enlist who were not alive for some of those debates,” he said.
• Steyer, the largely self-funded business executive, was on the debate stage because his millions bought TV commercials in Nevada and South Carolina that powered up his poll ratings enough to qualify for the debate.
His answer to the commander-in-chief question was weak. “I worked internationally around the world for decades. I traveled, I met with governments, I met with businesses, and I understand how America interacts with other countries.”
And his argument that he cares more about climate change than the other Democrats is not enough — all the Democrats are aboard. Steyer added nothing.