MSNBC Hails ‘Brilliant,’ ‘Sparky,’ Debate for Warren, But Fear Trump Could Win

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When MSNBC was able to put aside, late Tuesday into early Wednesday, their disdain for a lack of focus on the Lev Parnas documents in Tuesday’s 2020 Democratic debate, they settled on a narrative that Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) put on a “sparky” and “very sharp” performance with the anonymously-sourced CNN story serving as an “epiphany.”

However, it wasn’t all fun and games as one such panelist in David Plouffe (and a former Obama adviser at that) who warned that, despite all this, Donald Trump will be “really hard” to beat since he will “run a great campaign” in 2020. So stay tuned for that piece of bad news.

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson started to break the ice on going beyond the Parnas obsession, fretting that “this was a pretty congenial debate, I thought, in many ways. I mean there weren't a lot of fireworks really” and not “a lot of friction.”

 

 

Later in the evening, Robinson would rule that Warren had “a pretty good night” having regained her “mojo” from the summer. He then hyped that Warren “was very sharp, and there was just a liveliness in her performance....so I thought that...was a good night for her.”

Only in his closing thoughts before 1:00 a.m. Eastern did Robinson take note of how “it is unfortunate for the Democratic Party that there was an all-white debate stage tonight.”

In the spin room, Hardball host Chris Matthews had a lengthy answer that more or less proclaimed Warren to have won the evening because of the CNN reporting about socialist Senator Bernie Sanders having supposedly suggested a woman couldn’t win the presidency (click “expand,” emphasis mine):

I saw there was a very interesting political sort of epiphany there about Elizabeth Warren. Now, the people around her, at least four sources close to her — we don't know if she had anything to do with it, but when they raised the issue of gender, the gender card if you will, these last several days and Bernie had to respond to it and denied and then she — the candid — Senator Warren said she did in fact hear him say a woman couldn't win, I think it helped very much her campaign.

I think bringing this out into the open, the issue whether a woman can be elected president is going to help her campaign and whether she started it or not, she definitely brilliantly exploited it tonight and then Bernie clenched. I thought it interesting he did not want to fight it anymore, but she won. This is going to help. And you're going to see in the next couple days she's going to perk up in her chances. She was three or four points behind Bernie. I think this is going to help her catch up a bit. So I think it is an interesting thing....[I]t's a question of hanging a lantern on your problem, the old Bobby Kennedy argument. If you got a weakness, a little issue, bring it out in public, you're going to hear about it and you're going to gain from it.

It's just a brilliant move to take a question making it into a positive, and I think she did on the gender issue tonight. I think there’s going to be very careful — I thought it helped that she came out and said that we've never lost an election, me or Klobuchar. I thought that was a powerful statement tonight. And then Bernie got hung up on the fact well, 30 years ago, I beat a Republican. She said, I said in 30 years and he got a little bit off on that, a little wrong-footed. So I think this is a plus tonight for — for — for Warren, Senator Warren on the issue of gender, a win for her tonight.

Beloved anti-Trump Republican Mike Murphy echoed Matthews, telling Lyin’ Brian Williams that Warren “gave a pretty sparky performance and I think if you have to give a winner, it would be to her” even though “I don't see an earth-shattering effect.”

On the debate, Plouffe expressed hope that “this race [gets] tougher because this race has been gentle” and “[w]hoever comes out the other side is running against Donald Trump, okay, who is one of the toughest political pugilists we've ever seen.”

With three of the six front-runners set to be trapped in Washington due to the Senate impeachment trial, Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell cast doubt on the impact of the Iowa caucuses, stating that the results will have “a huge asterisk.” Talk about lowering expectations!

Former Senator-turned-MSNBC analyst Claire McCaskill put it bluntly at 12:16 a.m. Eastern when she stated that “I don't think the debate changed a lot of minds” even though there are many, many debates left to go.

So, that left us with Plouffe and his oh-so-bad-news for the Resistance. Rewinding to the 12:24 a.m. Eastern mark, Williams wondered: “How is this party going to beat Donald Trump in your view?”

Plouffe immediately replied that “it’s going to be hard” with “[o]ne of the things that I have a great fear of is I think people see his approval ratings, and they assume that he’s going to be easy to beat” when “[h]e’s not.”
 

 

 

He then explained further, including some high praise for the Trump campaign as marketers (click “expand”):

He didn’t run a great campaign in ‘16. He's going to run a great campaign this time. One of the Facebook’s [sic] executives recently said that Donald Trump and his campaign are the best marketers in the world, not the best political marketers, the best marketers in the world and Donald Trump is going to find and register and turn out every conceivable human being that looks like his base voter in the battleground states. So the raw vote number — Trump has shown no interest in growing out his base, you know, suburban women for instance. He's going to grow it through registration and turnout. So we need a candidate who can do a few things.

Let's look at Wisconsin. You want someone who can maximize his support of suburban women outside of Madison and Dane County and get the kid who comes from Missouri who’s going to University of Wisconsin to register and be active and get the 19-year-old African-American male in Wisconsin who has no interest in politics to register and vote and win back some of the Obama-Trump iron workers voters.

So I think we should not underestimate the challenge here and I think that’s why voters are so focused on electability is they want to get this right. I think as relates to the primary, I agree the debate -- is there going to be a groundswell of anybody out of this debate? I don't think so. Will there be erosion for anybody? I don't think so. This is going to be a wide open race and I think it's going to have a lot of surprises both in Iowa and the whole race. But if you were to try to simplify it to one thing, I would say if Joe Biden wins the South Carolina primary, he's probably going to be the Democratic nominee. So the question is what has to happen to prevent that? How poorly does he need to do?

To see the relevant transcript from MSNBC’s post-debate coverage on January 14 and 15, click “expand.”

MSNBC’s The 11th Hour with Brian Williams
January 14, 2020
11:15 p.m. Eastern

EUGENE ROBINSON: And clearly they were not as Claire mentioned, they were not ready to jump on it and it actually would have helped — it would have been clarifying and edifying if someone had tried to narrate this for us and tried to put this in the context that you just put it in because it is sort of all flying at us. That didn't happen. In fact, this was a pretty congenial debate, I thought, in many ways. I mean there weren't a lot of fireworks really. There wasn't a lot of friction. The Bernie/Elizabeth battle royale wasn't really much of a spat even. 

(....)

11:17 p.m. Eastern

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I saw there was a very interesting political sort of epiphany there about Elizabeth Warren. Now, the people around her, at least four sources close to her — we don't know if she had anything to do with it, but when they raised the issue of gender, the gender card if you will, these last several days and Bernie had to respond to it and denied and then she — the candid — Senator Warren said she did in fact hear him say a woman couldn't win, I think it helped very much her campaign.

I think bringing this out into the open, the issue whether a woman can be elected president is going to help her campaign and whether she started it or not, she definitely brilliantly exploited it tonight and then Bernie clenched. I thought it interesting he did not want to fight it anymore, but she won. This is going to help. And you're going to see in the next couple days she's going to perk up in her chances. She was three or four points behind Bernie. I think this is going to help her catch up a bit. So I think it is an interesting thing. I was talking about this with Jonathan Allen down here. He was working on a blog on this, one of our colleagues and it's a question of hanging a lantern on your problem, the old Bobby Kennedy argument. If you got a weakness, a little issue, bring it out in public, you're going to hear about it and you're going to gain from it.

It's just a brilliant move to take a question making it into a positive, and I think she did on the gender issue tonight. I think there’s going to be very careful — I thought it helped that she came out and said that we've never lost an election, me or Klobuchar. I thought that was a powerful statement tonight. And then Bernie got hung up on the fact well, 30 years ago, I beat a Republican. She said, I said in 30 years and he got a little bit off on that, a little wrong-footed. So I think this is a plus tonight for — for — for Warren, Senator Warren on the issue of gender, a win for her tonight.

(....)

11:41 p.m. Eastern

PLOUFFE: So I think the other reason, you know, we're 20 days away from dreams being dashed. This is getting super intense. 

WILLIAMS: Wow. 

MCCASKILL: Dark. Very intense.

PLOUFFE: Well, that's the truth, right?

WILLIAMS: Kill that joy. 

MCCASKILL: And the work that's gone in. 

PLOUFFE: I would say this as someone who would like to see Donald Trump defeated. I want this race to get tougher.

WILLIAMS: How so? 

PLOUFFE: Because this race has been gentle. Whoever comes out the other side is running against Donald Trump, okay, who is one of the toughest political pugilists we've ever seen, okay? I have no problem — now, it would be nice if they could shake hands. I understand why Senator Warren is upset, but like, I want to see them being tested and pushed and how they deal under pressure. So for Democrats who are concerned about this, I think we'll unite. We always have. The Obama/Clinton race in '08 was much nastier than this and we benefited from that. So I'm not worried about that but I think this is going to get more intense every day and particularly for those senators back in Washington. They're going to be really unhappy about being stuck in the Capitol. They're exercising their constitutional duty, when Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden are talking to thousands of Iowans who are deciding. 

(....)

11:43 p.m. Eastern

O’DONNELL: I do think if the senators are in effect trapped in the impeachment trial, the scoring for the Iowa caucus will change. This will be — there will be a huge asterisk on it, and it will say these three, they couldn't be there. It will be not quite as strong as it was in 1992 when the Iowa senator, Tom Harkin was running and no one went out there. People didn't campaign out there. They just said forget it, and Iowa was ignored because of that imbalance. We may have to strongly devalue the result if senators are kept out of campaigning.

(....)

January 15, 2020
12:13 a.m. Eastern

MIKE MURPHY: You saw a lot of caution. I would say if I had to give a winner, the first winner would be the nanny state. A lot of promising. My Republican heart was in arrest. But I would say Warren, who has needed a turn, a moment here — she's been in decline — gave a pretty sparky performance and I think if you have to give a winner, it would be to her. But I don't see an earth-shattering effect. I think if anybody lost, to a small degree it would be Mayor Pete just because he performed well and solidly, but he never seemed to grab control of the stage, and it's time for him as a leading candidate in Iowa to break through and give it that little push. Don’t think it hurt him a lot, but it might have been a lost opportunity.

(....)

12:16 a.m. Eastern

WILLIAMS: We've had over an hour to digest what we've witnessed tonight. What do you make of it now? 

MCCASKILL: I don't think the debate changed a lot of minds. 

WILLIAMS: Yeah. 

(....)

12:17 a.m. Eastern

ROBINSON: I do have it on extremely good authority that a column soon to be published in The Washington Post, perhaps written on this very set, agrees with Mike that it was a pretty good night for Elizabeth Warren. I thought she — you know, she was missing the mojo that she had had earlier in 2019 in the summer where she seemed kind of unstoppable, and then all of a sudden she was stopped, and she started sliding back down. I thought we sort of saw the old Warren tonight. I thought she was very sharp, and there was just a liveliness in her performance that I didn't see in the last couple of debates. So I thought that was — I thought it was a good night for her. You know, in a sense, I think Buttigieg, who may do — you know, he's doing pretty well in the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, in the national polls, he hasn't been doing that well, I thought it was a decent night for him too actually. He seemed to be a bit more on his stride although his answers about his African-American support were thin. 

WILLIAMS: Yeah. As Jason pointed out. 

ROBINSON: Well, also, not only the part that Jason mentioned when he got to the point, you know, and I have been endorsed by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. That was, you know, a little borderline teeth grating, but nobody had a terrible night in my estimation. 

ALICIA MENENDEZ: That's a rave review. 

WILLIAMS: The view from my fellow garden Stater Alicia Menendez. 

MENENDEZ: You know, I understand that there is a bit of fatigue, and at the same time holy smokes. The stakes that were articulated at the top of this debate, Iran, North Korea, the fact that our allies now need to be brought back to the table, the state department needing to be rebuilt, crises like global warming — people who were watching, some of whom may be watching for the first time, were reminded just how important this election is. One dynamic I don't think we've talked too much about was Sanders' desire to draw a contrast with Joe Biden, right? You saw him going after him on the Iraq War. You saw him going after him on trade. I think there was some expectation that you were going to hear a difference on Social Security. I'm not sure that contrast was drawn as sharply as I might have hoped it was given the amount of attention that has been given to the Warren/Sanders divide, but that certainly seemed to be where Sanders was trying to draw the contrast. 

WILLIAMS: David Plouffe, a really broad question. How is this party going to beat Donald Trump in your view? 

PLOUFFE: Well, it's going to be really hard. One of the things that I have a great fear of is I think people see his approval ratings, and they assume that he’s going to be easy to beat. He’s not. He didn’t run a great campaign in ‘16. He's going to run a great campaign this time. One of the Facebook’s executives recently said that Donald Trump and his campaign are the best marketers in the world, not the best political marketers, the best marketers in the world and Donald Trump is going to find and register and turn out every conceivable human being that looks like his base voter in the battleground states. So the raw vote number — Trump has shown no interest in growing out his base, you know, suburban women for instance. He's going to grow it through registration and turnout. So we need a candidate who can do a few things.

Let's look at Wisconsin. You want someone who can maximize his support of suburban women outside of Madison and Dane County and get the kid who comes from Missouri who’s going to University of Wisconsin to register and be active and get the 19-year-old African-American male in Wisconsin who has no interest in politics to register and vote and win back some of the Obama-Trump iron workers voters.

So I think we should not underestimate the challenge here and I think that’s why voters are so focused on electability is they want to get this right. I think as relates to the primary, I agree the debate -- is there going to be a groundswell of anybody out of this debate? I don't think so. Will there be erosion for anybody? I don't think so. This is going to be a wide open race and I think it's going to have a lot of surprises both in Iowa and the whole race. But if you were to try to simplify it to one thing, I would say if Joe Biden wins the South Carolina primary, he's probably going to be the Democratic nominee. So the question is what has to happen to prevent that? How poorly does he need to do?

(....)

12:53 a.m. Eastern

MENENDEZ: As much as we talk about electability in the context of gender and in the context some of these demographics, I didn't hear enough tonight about Latino voters, who represent about 12 percent —

WILLIAMS: Yep.

MENENDEZ: — of the Democratic primary voters. I think there were missed opportunities to talk about things like Puerto Rico, the earthquakes happening in Puerto Rico in the context of climate change, to talk about immigration, which now would be a very interesting conversation to have among this new cohort. And so I hope moving forward, especially when you look at Nevada, California, Texas, there are real places for that to play out.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, is the support of people of color taken for granted at times? 

ROBINSON: Yes, it is and, you know, look, it is unfortunate for the Democratic Party that there was an all-white debate stage tonight. 

WILLIAMS: Yeah. 

ROBINSON: And you know —

WILLIAMS: Kind of remarkable in 2020. 

ROBINSON: — there's nothing unfair about the rules per se, nothing discriminatory. 

WILLIAMS: Right. 

ROBINSON: — about the rules and I understand why they were put in place, to winnow down the field. I think it was unfortunate for the field to get to this point right before Iowa, before anybody gets a chance to vote. The last debate before Iowa, I think, where people really are starting to pay attention, should have seen a debate stage that's more reflective of the Democratic Party as it is, as it needs to be in November. You know, that said, I think — I didn't think anybody lost the debate tonight. I didn’t — and I think maybe Elizabeth Warren maybe won by a little bit, but not by a lot. 

NB Daily 2020 Presidential Debates Feminism MSNBC Video Chris Matthews Eugene Robinson Brian Williams Alicia Menendez Lawrence O'Donnell David Plouffe Donald Trump Claire McCaskill
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