Tonight is the Last Democratic Debate Before Iowa, Thank God

(Democratic candidates Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, Sanders, Klobuchar and Steyer await the start of the Democratic presidential primary debate at Loyola Marymount University on December 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California, via Mario Tama/Getty Images.)

The final Democratic Debate before the Iowa Caucuses will air tonight at 9 p.m. E.T. on CNN, who is partnering with the DeMoines Register, and you can watch it live here. I’m torn between feeling a sense of obligation to watch it to keep people informed, and feeling bummed out and tired before the thing even starts. Given that I am a tried and true wonk and political events are my fall football, even making that statement makes me a little depressed — or maybe it’s the debates doing it. I’m not sure what exactly is causing my malaise, so I thought I’d go through all of the things I am thinking and maybe we can commiserate together. Let’s call it a mid-season, Democratic therapy session.

In alphabetical order, the debaters are:

  • Joe Biden, former vice president

  • Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana

  • Amy Klobuchar, US senator from Minnesota

  • Bernie Sanders, US senator from Vermont

  • Tom Steyer, billionaire

  • Elizabeth Warren, US senator from Massachusetts

The field has now been paired down to six, which would have thrilled a lot of people had this happened sooner. The problem that we have now is that there will be absolutely no ethnic diversity of representation on that stage. I also question that late success entry of Tom Steyer, polling so high out of Nevada and South Carolina that he qualified at the last minute. The idea that South Carolina Democrats are losing their minds over Steyer suddenly gives me some serious eye narrowing hesitation. It’s not that I have any proof of anything tawdry, but you should know my spidey-senses are tingling.

Yesterday, Cory Booker announced that he is out of the race, just two days before the last major debate. Booker had been pushing for a change in the rules for debate qualification by appealing to Tom Perez since he missed the last debate that Andrew Yang qualified for. This time both Yang and Booker will be absent.

So initially these events were really frustrating because we had too many candidates on the stage and now they seem a little awkward based on who is not there. I understand the D.C.C.C. had to figure out some kind of solution to move forward with the debates, but the reality is that when a candidate can’t get on that stage, they lose access to the public and can’t raise money. So suddenly the polls, which are heavily tipped for the candidates who have the most money (e.g. Tom Steyer) are now determining who gets the invite, which ultimately yields more money. Ugh, money.

Another major issue for me tonite is this recent rumble between the Sanders and Warren campaign over things Sanders told Warren in a private meeting in 2018 about how a female presidential candidate could never win. Let’s back up. The first shot came when Politico reported that the Sanders campaign had disseminated a script to it’s volunteers that instructed them to tell voters leaning toward voting for Elizabeth Warren that the “people who support her are highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what [and that] she's bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party.” The script continued to read, “I like Elizabeth Warren. In fact, she’s my second choice. But here’s my concern about her” as it then pivots into more criticisms of Warren.

The Sanders campaign did not challenge the authenticity of the script and declined to comment, and this bothers me. The proof is out there. Bernie Sanders or his managers made the call to do it, and likely poured over just the right way to phrase the script. So Mr. Sanders, it’s time for you to publicly deny it or defend it, like a real leader would. This tactic by Sanders of using his volunteers and supporters on social media to launch personal attacks and then hold his hands up as if they are clean is offensive and a little too reminiscent of 2016.

Warren made a pubic statement about the issue on Sunday, calling for a cease fire by asking him to reconsider the tactic and move in a different direction. (see video below.) This situation could have been easily solved before it even heated up, but there was no statement, no culpability, no explanation. Both candidates had met in December of 2018 at Warren’s Washington, D.C. apartment to discuss the primary run and how they could approach it as friends.

Sanders and Warren agreed at that meeting that if they ultimately faced each other as presidential candidates, they should remain civil and avoid attacking one another. They also discussed how to best take on President Donald Trump, and Warren laid out two main reasons she believed she would be a strong candidate: She could make a robust argument about the economy and earn broad support from female voters. Bernie Sanders then told Elizabeth Warren that he did not believe a woman could win. It’s important to note that the description of that meeting is based on accounts from two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting. Warren also backed up the statement on Monday saying, "I thought a woman could win; he disagreed."

No one who was a Hillary Clinton supporter on social media is shocked by this statement by Bernie. The abuse heaped at Hillary supporters from Sanders supporters in the primary election for the Democratic nomination was much worse than we faced from Trump supporters during the general election. When I say “much worse” I mean 1,000 times worse — I personally faced too many attacks to count, all under the guise of “Bernie Bro progressive politics.” I’m not trying to offend anyone with this statement, it’s the truth. Women who experienced it will understand what I am saying, and I am hopeful that men who did not will take a moment to hear me, respect me and consider my perspective.

Here’s another cold reality: Warren did not start this fight, yet she seems to be taking the brunt of the “infighting” accusations from Democrats far and wide. She also can’t just let attacks from “her friend” just slide because she is a woman and she has to call the misogyny out to advance our cultural perspective. Bernie Sanders used his volunteers to pick a fight that he knew Elizabeth Warren couldn’t win, but it’s time we start holding everyone accountable.

(Democratic presidential candidates Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Warren, Biden and Sanders as they arrive on stage before the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate on November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia, via Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)

This devolving relationship between Warren and Sanders is not surprising, but it is a little disappointing in that it will be the enticing factor in most people tuning into the debates tonite instead of a need to hear a more detailed version of policy positions. The reality is that we pretty much know the details of the candidates we are supporting and how they differ from those we don’t like as much. We are on debate #7 in a time where social media is the class workbook — we get it. I am particularly reluctant in my enthusiasm for tonite’s debate because I’m concerned it will devolve into the Real Housewives of the Campaign Trail, which may be entertaining in the moment, but risks turning off too many people.

I have to admit that some of my consternation is left-over frustration with the way the first primary elections are still being done. Iowa and New Hampshire do not properly represent America, and they are given too much power in determining who continues to campaign because a candidate cannot keep going for long if they don’t win. You don’t win, you don’t pull in money…and now we are back to money, ugh.

I’m going to tune in to the debate tonight, but I am not happy about it. I am on the defensive and I am a little burnt-out and this is never how one makes good decisions. But in addition to feeling like it’s my civic duty to participate in the process, however unpleasant it may be, I also feel like I’m on the watchtower here at Shero for you. So since we have to and should be here tonight, let’s make the most of it and stay optimistic, even when it is much easier to be negative. Let’s Michelle Obama this sitch and stick together. See you here at 9 p.m.

Reminder that you should bookmark my Democratic Primary Primer — it’s a little quiet now, but when the primary races get started, I will be updating all critical information on each vote as the results come in, including upcoming elections. Trust me, you are going to need this post all year. Another great pick-me up is my Ultimate 80's Video Playlist: For Like, Ever to infuse your day with some extra energy or send you down the reminiscing path. Have a totally excellent day.

You will also want to get your paid subscription now to Shero, as I will be posting essential election content that you won’t have access to with the free subscription. Thanks.

Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.