Biden was helped by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper

Biden tearing into Warren and, in a frankly sexist manner, demanding her gratitude for helping her realize the bureau was his lowest point of the night. That said, all Biden had to do Tuesday night to maintain his lead was to lay low and not, as he has in the past, get flustered and descend into babbling incoherence. This he managed to do, low as that bar sadly is. It helped significantly that most of the other candidates mostly ignored him, except for a minor three-way argument towards the end between Biden, Sanders and Warren over health care financing, in which Biden managed to keep his talking points straight and avoid getting confused.

The biggest concern for Biden was how he would handle the inevitable question about his son Hunter Biden’s spot on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, which has indirectly led to Donald Trump’s possible impeachment over Trump’s efforts to gin up false evidence for a conspiracy theory accusing Biden of impropriety. On that front, Biden did fine, emphasizing that he was in the right here and turning the tables by focusing on Trump’s corruption, an easy enough sell to anyone still living in the real world. Biden was helped by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who chose journalistic responsibility over sensationalism and emphasized repeatedly in his question that Trump’s accusations were false.

Sanders had a very good night, landing some solid lines, but mostly by looking energetic, healthy, and like his old self, despite suffering a  heart attack earlier this month. Still, after months in the race, it appears that Sanders is having a hard time building on his base of roughly 20% of the Democratic electorate. This debate, where he showed consistency but had little new to say, isn’t going to help him.

As usual, the takeaway is that there need to be fewer candidates, especially of the Gabbard/Yang caliber who are on the stage because of the crank vote but have no chance of building any real support. (That goes double for billionaire Tom Steyer, whose progressive rhetoric couldn’t erase the fact that he basically bought his spot on stage.) So far, Democratic National Committee standards have only narrowed down the roster for the next debate to eight candidates, which is still too many, as evidenced by Yang continuing to make the cut. With the Iowa caucuses not much more than three months away, it’s critical to start having debates with less noise and more substance, and limited to candidates who actually have a shot to win.

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