Just Brutal: Bernie Sanders' First Debate Performance Shows His Glaring Mediocrity

Set in his ways.

Nothing could more accurately describe Bernie Sanders' performance last night at his first debate of the 2020 Democratic primary campaign.

Despite having five months to prepare, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a passionless first debate performance that continued to showcase him to be a limited politician. From veering off-topic to giving canned answers to attempting to blatantly distort his record, Sanders showed that he learned nothing from the 2016 Democratic primary. His entire debate strategy was to revert to his stump speech, a stump speech that the majority of Americans can recite by heart at this point. At a time when Bernie Sanders needed to stop Elizabeth Warren's rising momentum, he instead created a void where it is very likely that he continues to drop in the polls after what can only be described as an uninspiring first debate performance.

From the very first question addressed to him on whether or not he would raise taxes on the middle class, Sanders immediately veered off topic to get to his key talking points without answering the question. When called out by moderator Savannah Guthrie, Sanders finally responded with: 

People who have health care under Medicare-for-all will have no premiums, no deductibles, no co-payments, no out-of-pocket expenses. Yes, they will pay more in taxes, but less in health care for what they get.
You read that correctly. Less than 3 minutes into the very first debate and Bernie Sanders already gift-wrapped an enormous Republican attack ad that would run nonstop in a general election. Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and Sheldon Adelson would literally be salivating at the chance to portray how the Democratic nominee for president wants to raise the taxes of every day, hard-working Americans. For most candidates, this one massive gaffe would cripple their campaigns but for Bernie Sanders, it was only the beginning of what would end up being a miserable evening.

As the questions continued on healthcare, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet called out Sanders' home state of Vermont for not being able to pass Medicare-for-all because of excessive taxes. This has been a key argument against Sanders' plan for nationwide Medicare-for-all and when Bennet raised the issue Sanders did not respond. However, moderator Lestor Holt returned to Sanders and asked him specifically how he would implement plans that have failed at the state level and make them work at a national level. Sanders responding by saying:
I will tell you how we'll do it. We'll do it the way real change has always taken place, whether it was the labor movement, the civil rights movement, or the women's movement. We will have Medicare-for-all when tens of millions of people are prepared to stand up and tell the insurance companies and the drug companies that their day is gone, that health care is a human right, not something to make huge profits off of.
So according to Sanders, the way we pay for Medicare-for-all at a national level is have tens of millions of Americans asking for it. That's it. No details. No specific policy proposals. No changes in how everyday Americans pay for their health insurance. Americans will ask for it and it will happen. Magic!

Later on, moderator Chuck Todd asked Bernie Sanders a softball question about how Democratic voters were excited about what has become the most diverse field in the party's history. All Sanders had to do was speak about how the Democratic Party is the big tent party and reflective of the diversity that exists throughout the country. Instead, shocking absolutely no one, Sanders passed on this opportunity to once again drop into his stump speech on economic equality:

But in addition to diversity, in terms of having more women, more people from the LGBT community, we also have to do something else. And that is, we have to ask ourselves a simple question, in that how come today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she made 45 years ago, and that in the last 30 years, the top 1 percent has seen a $21 trillion increase in their wealth?
We need a party that is diverse, but we need a party that has the guts to stand up to the powerful special interests who have so much power over the economic and political life of this country.
Later on, moderator Rachel Maddow asked Sanders what he, as president, would specifically do if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Sanders again went into a stump speech about women's reproductive health and once again had to be forced to answer the question at hand. When Maddow pressed Sanders for a specific answer, he said:
We will pass — well, first of all, let me tell you this. It didn't come up here, but let's face this, Medicare-for-all guarantees every woman in this country the right to have an abortion if she wants it.
Fear not, American women! If Roe v. Wade is overturned, President Sanders will come to your aid by passing Medicare-for-all thanks to the tens of millions of Americans who want it passed. Isn't governing easy?

Later, when asked what his one single priority would be for his first 100 days, Sanders responded by saying we would need a political revolution to take on special interests. Again, zero specifics and vague platitudes that would mean nothing if he were to be elected.

As bad as all this was for Bernie Sanders, the worst moment of his night occurred when questioned by Rachel Maddow on guns. Those of us that have been following Bernie Sanders know how weak he is on guns, mainly because it was the NRA that helped launch Sanders' career in 1990. Last night, in what has now become a viral exchange, Sanders attempted to gaslight his way out of an on-the-record statement he made in 2013. Fortunately, Rachel Maddow was having none of it. The exchange went:

MADDOW: Senator Sanders, a Vermont newspaper recently released portions of an interview you gave in 2013 in which you said: “My own view on guns is, everything being equal, states should make those decisions."
MADDOW: Has your thinking changed since then? Do you now think there is a federal role to play?
SANDERS: No, that's a mischaracterization of my thinking.
MADDOW: It's a quote of you.
SANDERS: Look, we have a gun . ..


At this particular moment, Bernie Sanders became the laughingstock of a debate that featured Marianne Williamson. And the laughter was deserved. Sanders attempted to pull a fast one on a moderator who brought the receipts and he got called out on it. It was a strategy that Sanders had attempted throughout the night and the audience finally acknowledged just how unprepared he was and they found it comical that he attempted to deny his own on-the-record quote. This was not Bernie Sanders trying to weasel his way out of an interview question, this was Bernie Sanders attempting to lie to a national audience because he knew that the answer to the question would not make him look good.

This moment perfectly encapsulated the evening for Bernie Sanders. He has become a farce on the national stage. Whereas candidates like Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Kirsten Gillibrand offered passionate, detailed proposals, Sanders reverted back to his bland talking points with no sense of urgency. Outside of Sanders' sycophantic campaign staff and supporters, hardly anyone watching thought that Sanders was in any way impressive. He will continue to be a presence on the debate stage but nobody can honestly say at this point that Bernie Sanders is a serious contender for president.

But that hasn't stopped him before and that won't stop him this time around, either.

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