The biggest winner of Wednesday’s Las Vegas presidential debate wasn’t on the stage. It was President Donald Trump.
Regardless of your political perspective, the recent Democratic presidential debate was amazingly entertaining. Sen. Elizabeth Warren broke out the war paint and scalped Michael Bloomberg over his comments about woman. She left him sputtering by repeatedly pressing him on how many nondisclosure agreements he signed as part of settlements over sexual harassment.
Joe Biden stayed awake during the whole debate and stumbled over only one answer. That’s a win when Trump’s nickname for you is “Sleepy Joe.”
Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar can’t stand each other and had a couple of notable exchanges. “You’ve memorized a bunch of talking points,” she told him. Fact check: True.
The immediate winner of the debate was Sen. Bernie Sanders. He came in as the front-runner, and there’s no reason to think he didn’t walk out in first place, even after taking a couple of shots.
By not going after Sanders repeatedly, the other candidates were left fighting for second place.
The biggest winner, however, was Trump. The debate provided sound bite after sound bite that will be useful against the eventual nominee. A couple of the best lines against Sanders came from Bloomberg, who regained his footing in the second half of the debate.
“We’re not going to throw out capitalism,” he said. “It’s called communism, and it didn’t work.” Shortly after he added, “The best known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.”
Those lines may not be an effective attack in a Democratic presidential primary — the auditorium booed and groaned — but they will be in a general election.
The Trump campaign is in an unusual position. It’s hard to see any of the Democrats beating him. Don’t blame that on a long and vicious primary, either. Trump did just fine in 2016 despite having to clear a large field of Republican challengers. The Democratic candidates aren’t that impressive, which explains why the field has been slow to winnow down to a final two or three. With stances such as a ban on fracking, Sanders will have an especially hard time winning battleground states such as Pennsylvania.
But it’s also hard not to see Trump doing numerous things to undermine his own campaign. Less than three weeks ago, Trump gave one of the best State of the Union addresses ever. He spent the first part of his speech detailing how great the economy is, and his showmanship was incredible.
He could have rode the good press from that speech for weeks. Two days later, he attacked his political rivals at the National Prayer Breakfast. On Tuesday, he commuted the sentence of corrupt former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His own attorney general is threatening to resign if Trump keeps mouthing off on Twitter.
During the 2016 race, the Trump campaign had a saying, “Let Trump be Trump.” It needs revisiting for 2020: Only Trump can beat Trump.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at email@example.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.