In their voices you could hear not only anger but panic. They seemed worried about the impending demise of their individual campaigns, yes, but in a race that has turned so sharply on the question of electability, their fear went a step further: Each Democrat on that stage seemed to suggest that without his or her name at the top of the ticket, the party stood no chance of defeating Donald Trump in November.
“I am scared,” Steyer said as he inveighed against both Sanders and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “If we cannot pull this party together, if we go to one of those extremes, we take a terrible risk of reelecting Donald Trump.”
After largely escaping the spotlight last week in Nevada, Sanders was a frequent target tonight. “Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United states, and that’s why Russia is helping you,” Bloomberg said in the debate’s opening moments, referencing reports that Russia is interfering on behalf of both Trump and Sanders.
Virtually all of the candidates except Warren said the Vermont democratic socialist would be a drag on the Democratic ticket. “I like Bernie,” Klobuchar said. “We came in together to the Senate. But I do not think that this is the best person to lead the ticket.”
For the second week in a row, Warren lit into Bloomberg repeatedly. In one of the most visceral attacks of the entire campaign, she used her own story of losing a teaching job when she got pregnant to dredge up an accusation made by one of Bloomberg’s employees. A woman alleging workplace discrimination at Bloomberg’s financial firm said that when he found out she was expecting a child, he told her to “kill it.” The audience in Charleston gasped when Warren raised the charge, and some even booed. “I never said that,” Bloomberg angrily replied.
Earlier, Warren had brought up Bloomberg’s recent history of supporting Republicans, noting that he has supported South Carolina’s own Senator Lindsey Graham as well as conservative Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. When she ran for the Senate herself in 2012, Bloomberg backed the incumbent Republican, Scott Brown. That past, she said, would make him an unacceptable risk in the general election. “I don’t care how much money he has,” Warren said. “The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him.”
Warren treaded much more lightly with Sanders, although she did draw more of a contrast with him than she has in the past. “Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I would make a better president than Bernie,” she said, explaining that she’s had more success in the fights she’s waged, such as pushing for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She said their plans for Medicare for All were similar, but his “doesn't show enough about how we’re going to pay for it.”