Bernie Versus Biden: Who Won the Debate?

Mehdi Hasan and Ryan Grim break down Sunday night’s one-on-one encounter between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

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The 11th Democratic primary debate on Sunday was an unusual one. It was a one-on-one encounter between Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, held without an audience in Washington, D.C. due to mounting fears surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. The two sparred over health care, Social Security, the Iraq War, and the 2005 bankruptcy bill. Intercept D.C. Bureau Chief Ryan Grim joins Mehdi Hasan to break down the debate.

Bernie Sanders: Why don’t you get rid of the SuperPAC that you have right now — which is running very ugly negative ads about me, by the way —

Jo Biden: [Laughs.]

BS: Don’t laugh, Joe. That’s just the truth.

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: I’m Mehdi Hasan. Welcome to a special post-debate episode of Deconstructed, which I’m recording from my house because of, well, y’know, a certain virus, #socialdistancing.

So the Democratic debate. Finally, it’s what we were all waiting for. Well, ok, some of us were waiting for. Bernie vs Biden. Onstage. Together. One on one. Mano a mano. With no Tom Steyers or Tulsi Gabbards or John Delaneys in the way. And no audience either because of the whole coronavirus scare.

And it was a night on which both men had their moments. Yes, even Joe:

JB: Look, in the last — in Super Tuesday and before that, Bernie outspent me two, three, four, five, six to one. And I still won. I didn’t have any money. And I still won.

MH: But who won this all-important debate, that was made all the more urgent and crucial by, yes, this ongoing pandemic? Who emerged victorious?

BS: I am saying that you have been on the floor of the Senate, time and time again, talking about the need to cut Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ programs. Is that true or is that not true?

JB: No, it’s not true.

BS: That is not true?

JB: That is not true. What is true —

MH: You gotta hand it to Joe Biden. For weeks, he was criticized for running for president while in clear cognitive decline, slammed for making gaffe after gaffe, accused even of suffering from dementia. And yet last night’s debate saw Biden, at least in the first hour, crisper, clearer, more coherent than he’s ever been before. I mean, yeah, he called H1N1, N1H1.

JB: We’ve been through this before with dealing with the viruses that, the N1H1.

MH: But maybe that was the stutter.

Here’s the thing though: Biden didn’t spend much of the night making embarrassing mistakes, or stumbling over sentences, or saying mad stuff, but he did spend much of the night lying his arse off. This is the guy who the Democrats plan on running against the Liar in Chief come the fall? Someone whose response to sustained challenges on his record is to simply deny everything, is to make false, unsubstantiated claims, is to expect us all not to believe clear video evidence of his lies, not to believe our own lying eyes? Seriously?

And I know a lot of you listening to the show are thinking: “But Mehdi, who cares? He’s up against Trump, the biggest liar of them all.” Well, I care. I don’t think we should give Democrats who lie a pass, while only focusing our ire, our outrage, on Republicans who tell lies.

Let’s be consistent, please, let’s not be tribal or partisan hacks, who only focus on the lies of our opponents.

And Biden’s lies were demonstrable, brazen, shameless, relentless.

He said, for example, repeatedly last night that he never stood on the floor of the Senate and called for social security cuts.

BS: One more time. Were you on the floor, time and time again, for whatever reason, talking about the need to cut Social Security and Medicare and veterans’ programs?

JB: No, I did not talk about the need to cut any of those programs

MH: A lie. In fact, he did. Here he is in the Senate, January 1995:

JB: When I argued if we should freeze federal spending, I meant social security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant Veterans benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice. I tried it a third time. I tried it a fourth time.

MH: When challenged on his superPAC and his rich backers, Biden responded by accusing Bernie Sanders of having his own superPACs, 9 in fact.

JB: You get rid of the nine Super PACs you have?

BS: I don’t — nine. I don’t have any SuperPACs.

JB: You have nine. Do you want me to list them?

BS: Yeah. You go ahead and list them.

JB: OK. Come on. Give me a break. Come on.

MH: By the way, Sanders there asks Biden to name them, these nine superPACs. He calls his bluff, and in classic bullshit artist fashion Biden just says “Come on” instead of naming them as he said he would. I can name these nine groups for you:

Center for Popular Democracy Action, People’s Action, Dream Defenders, Sunrise Movement, Make the Road Action, Our Revolution, Democratic Socialists of America, Progressive Democrats of America, Student Action.

None of them are the kind of billionaire and multimillionaire-funded corporate friendly groups that back people like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg and yes, Donald Trump.

Biden also said he, like Bernie, believes healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

JB: Senator Sanders and I both agree we need Medicare — health care should be a right, not a privilege.

MH: Not true! If he believed healthcare was a right, he’d believe in universal healthcare but Biden’s plan, by his own admission, covers just 97% of the population, leaving 10 million Americans, 10 million Americans completely uninsured and tens of million more Americans under-insured. Another lie.

Biden said he had nothing to do with the now-notorious bankruptcy bill which screwed over so many working people in this country in order to help protect the credit card industry.

BS: Joe, if I memory is correct, you helped write that bankruptcy bill.

JB: I did not.

BS: All right.

MH: That’s a barefaced lie. Biden was known as the Senator for MBNA, the credit card giant that was based in his state at the time. He lobbied for the bill, fought with then law professor Elizabeth Warren over the bill, and even voted against an amendment that would have ensured that the children of debtors could still be given birthday and Christmas gifts. Wow, thanks Joe. In fact, here is then Republican senator Orrin Hatch of Utah thanking Biden for his efforts in getting the bankruptcy bill into law:

Orin Hatch: Senators Biden and Carper have worked tirelessly for years on this legislation and they’ve taken some tough votes to get it done and I admire them for it. You would expect senators from Delaware which is the corporate state to do their best to get this bill through but they did.

MH: On climate change, Biden claimed last night he’s an opponent of fracking.

JB: No more, no new fracking. And by the way —

MH: He’s lying. He’s not an opponent to fracking. As his own surrogate Congressman Conor Lamb wrote in the Wall Street Journal just last month: “He has explicitly promised not to ban fracking, and when confronted by an activist who was upset with his position, Mr. Biden told him plainly: “You ought to vote for someone else.””

On Iraq too, Biden lied.

JB: I learned I can’t take the word of a president when, in fact, they assured me that they would not use force.

MH: Not use force? Everyone knew George W. Bush was going to use force. To be clear: Biden himself was calling for US military action against Iraq and Saddam Hussein in 1998 – two years before George W. Bush even became president. It was another lie. And remember, a lie that cost 100s of thousands of innocent lives. And he won’t own it.

What was so frustrating though last night was that Joe Biden lied and lied and lied and yet Bernie Sanders let him do it. Yes, Bernie pushed him on the social security cuts, but it was very tame, very friendly because Bernie Sanders likes Joe Biden. He always calls him ‘my friend Joe’ and he means it because he then pulls his punches. He’s done it for the past year and it’s cost him, I’m sorry to say.

Bernie’s also just not a very good debater, passionate and informed as he is; he doesn’t seem to be able to ever go in for the kill. Take the Yemen war, which Bernie brought up last night:

BS: I have led the effort against all forms of authoritarianism, including America’s so-called allies in the UAE and in Saudi Arabia, and in fact, as you may know, worked with conservative Republicans to utilize for the very first time the War Powers Act to get the United States out of the horrific war in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia.

MH: You know what he should have said? “To get the United States out of the horrific war in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia which started on your watch Joe, when you were in government with Barack Obama. You supported the Yemen War which has killed kids while I have tried to end it. He should’ve said something like that.

But he didn’t. Biden got another pass live on national television in what was supposed to be the big debate, the debate where Bernie takes him down.

Last night, watching that debate in Washington, D.C., watching Biden lie and Bernie unable to pin him down on his lies, I really did miss Elizabeth Warren. I did. She could have skewered him. Then again, Warren had 10 debates to take down Biden and she never did it either. For some bizarre inexplicable reason, both progressive candidates held back when it came to Biden over the past year, and guess what? Today, Biden is on course to be the Democratic presidential nominee and they’re not.

So you know what? I think Biden won the debate. I do. Not because he was better at debating, not because he had more substantive or inspiring or cleverer things to say. But because he lied and lied and lied and got away with it. He did. Bernie Sanders didn’t knock him down and keep him down, and he had to, if he was going to have any chance of making a comeback in this Democratic presidential race.

[Music interlude.]

Ryan Grim, our DC Bureau chief and a regular guest on this show, joins me again now, as he has done after previous debates, to give us his take on tonight’s Bernie/Biden head-to-head.

Ryan, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

Ryan Grim: Thanks for having me.

MH: So, another debate. We’ve been here together on these nights, Ryan on many times over the past year. I think there have been more than 10 debates off the top of my head. None like this one. Just Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden on the stage. No audience because of the whole coronavirus issue, filmed in Washington, D.C. And what did you make of the debate as a whole?

RG: Well, actually part of it played to Bernie’s strength, you know, he didn’t have to try to yell over the audience or try to yell to the audience to try to get them fired up. You know, he’s kind of effective when he’s just one on one and you could see why Joe Biden’s camp had been pushing to, you know, sit down at a table and kind of hash it out in a more staid kind of way, because as the evening went on, Biden’s energy was clearly flagging. And his ability to put sentences together, you know, started falling apart relative to, you know, the energy that he’d been able to bring kind of out of the gate.

MH: Although to be fair to Joe Biden and you and I have discussed his apparent sunsetting on the show before in the wake of previous debates where he said mad stuff, by his own low standards, he was pretty sharp tonight and pretty engaged. There wasn’t that much evidence of any other kind of decline that has been observed by many. So I think his camp will be pleased that he came out of that without kind of any major “gaffes.”

RG: Yeah, if you’re Joe Biden, you know, you’re you’re happy with what you turned out because your job at this point is to just not lose. You know, he’s in the driver’s seat. If nothing drastic changes in the dynamic of the race he has the nomination. And so all he has to do is kind of not lose it to Bernie. And even if you think that he lost the debate which I do, Bernie has a hard time winning debates. So you could have one loser but not necessarily a winner.

MH: Yeah which is why I actually think Biden is the winner because fundamentally, Bernie had to win this debate as the insurgent, as the outsider, as the person who needed a victory. And I just think he didn’t land enough blows. He called out Biden on various issues like Social Security which you’ve written about, and I want to talk to you about, but there was, you know, while those of us “in the know” could shout at the TV set saying that’s a lie, the problem is Bernie didn’t say and therefore people at home just saw to politicians say, well, you’re not telling the truth while I’m telling the truth. And you know, who do I believe? I mean, let’s take Social Security. You wrote a fact-check piece for The Intercept back in January, and that’s been much shared on Twitter tonight after the debate. “Joe Biden has advocated cutting social security for 40 years” is the headline of that piece. But that’s strange, right? Because he told us tonight that he hasn’t done that.

RG: It was really quite remarkable and on some level you wonder what Bernie can actually do at that point. He said to Biden repeatedly, so you didn’t stand on the Senate floor and boast about cutting Medicare, Social Security, and veteran’s benefits or boast about trying to cut Medicare, Social Security and veteran’s benefits. And repeatedly, Biden said no, and Bernie showed a little bit of his luddite-ness — What did he say? Go to the website —

MH: Go to the YouTube.

RG: Go to the YouTube. But if you do go to the YouTube and so what what clearly, you know, millions of people did is they went to the Google and typed it in and many of those, you know, stumbled on our article, others fell on to the YouTube videos that are littered across the internet of him saying precisely that. This isn’t something that he did, once in, you know, one moment of weakness in his career as he was like trying to like go to the right to win re-election or something in Delaware at some point. No, this was a driving part of his persona. This was a significant way that he showed voters back home that he was, you know, willing to punch the hippies in the face that he was, you know, willing to go up against his own party.

MH: He really, to quote Tony Blair, it’s much worse than you think. I really believe this stuff.

RG: Yes, and throughout the middle of the Obama administration, when the Obama/Biden administration turned toward austerity, you know, Biden was one of the lead negotiators working with Congress in trying to craft a grand bargain. One of the headline —

MH: And the Bowles-Simpson commission.

RG: There was the supercommittee, there was the Bowles-Simpson commission. And then there was a thing called the Biden committee. He literally had his name on it.

MH: There was a committee named after Joe Biden that was devoted to looking for cuts.

RG: Yes, it was called the Biden committee. It was Biden and Eric Cantor were the kind of leaders of it.

MH: Former Republican colleagues.

RG: Bowles-Simpson, the staff director on it was Bruce Reed who had come over from the White House where he was chief of staff to Joe Biden. He said in the debate that he did not support Bowles-Simpson. So was this a rogue move by his longtime staffer, Bruce Reed, to sneak out of the White House and go be staff director for this commission that now Joe Biden says he was he was opposed to?

MH: What’s so fascinating about the Biden position is as Bernie tried, but kind of stumbled in saying is, he could say I believe that, then I don’t believe it. Now, it was a mistake as he says on Iraq. He could say actually, that was the right thing to do at the time confronted by Republicans, confronted by rising deficit, but he didn’t do either of those things. He just lies and says, nope, had nothing to do with me, multiple times tonight.

RG: It’s something that his staff talk about. Jeff Connaughton has written a book about Biden, a former longtime staffer of his and, you know, he gets into that propensity of Biden’s that when he’s in a corner, he doesn’t spin his way out of it like somebody like Bill Clinton, where when you come away from it, you feel like you were lied to, but then you parse the language that Clinton used you see that there were some, you know, subtle things put in there that maybe okay, you know, depending on the meaning of the word “is” like, okay, maybe there was, you know, it wasn’t a total lie. Whereas, Biden is much more direct and he’ll just like you said, he’ll just lie when the evidence is right there in front of you. The bankruptcy bill part was remarkable. One of Biden’s chief legislative accomplishments, you know, throughout the, starting in the late ’90s and ultimately, finally passing in 2005 was the bankruptcy bill, which was, you know, pushed hardest by MBNA, the credit card issuer out of Delaware.

MH: That was based out of Delaware and that his son, Hunter Biden, remember him? Was working for at the time.

RG: And Mitch McConnell —

MH: By the way, a lot of people try and frame this as just, you know, Bernie socialist versus kind of Biden neoliberal. It’s actually much more simpler than that. It was Biden versus everyone else. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama were in the Senate and voted against that bill. Biden voted for it and George W. Bush signed it into law.

RG: Well, Clinton’s actually a little more complicated. Warren as a professor talked her into talking Bill Clinton into vetoing it, as one of his last acts and in the Clinton administration, but Biden didn’t give up, kept pushing it. And then Clinton as senator from New York actually did vote for it and that’s one of the reasons that she and Warren kind of fell out. But yes, Biden never gave up on that. When it passed on the Senate floor, Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch, both, you know, slobbered praise all over Joe Biden, for his dedication and his help in writing the legislation. And just he sat up there on stage and said that this thing that he was publicly involved with for seven or eight years, he wasn’t actually involved with. You know, it’s just kind of head spinning and you wonder what Bernie could have done with it, maybe Elizabeth Warren or somebody else who’s like a more skilled debater. Warren was literally a debate champion in high school or whatever.

MH: A Kamala Harris even.

RG: A Kamala, you know, it just not —

MH: A, it’s not Bernie style, and B, we know that Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are friends. Bernie considers him to be a friend. There was extensive BuzzFeed reporting last week about how lots of people on Bernie’s team had been pushing people like David Sirota, his speechwriter, who’s been very active on Twitter calling out Biden’s lies on social media. They’ve been pushing Bernie to take a stronger stance against Biden for months and he just refused. And that’s the irony that Bernie gets attacked for being toxic and encouraging a toxic, abusive culture online. And the irony is Biden’s gonna be the Democratic presidential nominee because Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two progressives, both pull their punches. I mean, the bankruptcy bill Ryan wasn’t even mentioned till tonight. You and I have discussed it before. It has not made an appearance in any previous debate. And when it came up tonight, Bernie didn’t even land the blow. And the moderators, forget the moderators didn’t bring it up, either.

RG: Yeah, your point is right, and particularly about Warren. You know, we wrote about the bankruptcy fight that Biden and Warren had ahead of one of the debates because we were, you know, she was surging in the polls, and we assumed, of course, it’s going to come up this time so let’s make sure that all of the history is laid out in one place for readers here. And it didn’t come up and you know that’s on Elizabeth Warren as well to allow Joe Biden to have this pass.

MH: And Bernie people have been saying to me tonight, I spoke to someone on his team and said, “Look, why are you doing all this stuff, you know, online and you know, after the debates, but on the night, your guy never, ever you know, goes for it. He always seems to pull his punches” and they were like, “Well, Elizabeth Warren could have done this.” But who cares? Tonight there was no Elizabeth Warren. There’s no time for whataboutism. Tonight was Bernie Sanders’ moment, we were told again and again, watch for the one on one debate. And yeah, you know, people say, “Well, what could he have done?” You mentioned earlier, in my other role, as you know, Ryan, I interview kind of politicians for a living. I try and kind of ask tough questions on my TV show. And you know, there’s certain things he could have done Bernie Sanders, he could have, for example, had the specific quote from the YouTube and said “You said this on x date. You’re lying.” Use the L-word. And people might get upset and say, well, you’re crippling the candidate going into the general election but the fundamental problem here is Biden’s lying is going to catch up with him during the general election. The fact that Trump is a greater liar is not going to be a shield that Biden can use forever.

RG: Right, especially because, you know, Biden is trying to, is going to have to try to bring out the youth vote. That is, you know, Bernie Sanders specialty. That’s what he kind of brings to the table. Biden is getting absolutely slaughtered among young voters in the primaries. Now, Biden, would argue, well, you know, Bernie hasn’t been able to bring them out at the same level that I’ve been able to bring out older voters and okay, that’s true. And there are structural obstacles to getting out young people in primaries that aren’t necessarily there on the general because the general election becomes this massive cultural phenomenon where a primary in your state you have to be plugged in a little bit to know about it. Young voters care deeply about authenticity. And so I think you’re definitely going to see Trump kind of use that against Biden. And like you said, the fact that Trump does something himself and that it’s hypocritical to attack an opponent would never would never stop him.

MH: Would never stop him or the Republicans. And you know, there’s that great moment where Biden said, “Oh, you’ve got nine super PACs.” And Bernie said, “Well name them,” and he goes, “You want me to name them?” And he said, “Yeah, name them.” And he goes, “Ah, come on” and just moves on. And that’s classic. That’s a classic tell of a fabricator, you know, they can see what they can get away with, a bullshit merchant. You know, what can you get away with? How much can you get away with especially on live television? And it’s interesting because the Biden kind of calculated lies and sheer, you know, up is down. Black is white. I wasn’t a bankruptcy bill sponsor or writer goes against the other image which you and I, to be fair have discussed at length as well, which is, you know, he’s off his mind. He’s off his rocker. He’s in decline. And it’s kind of Trumpian in that way again, I want to be clear, it’s nowhere near the same level of Trump’s delusions, nowhere near the same level of Trump’s dishonesty. But there is a bit of kind of, is it the delusion? Is it just fabricated? Is it a bit of both? I can’t work it out when I watch him on stage.

RG: Yeah, he doesn’t handle criticism well. That’s one thing that has, you know, people close to him have said over the years. The kind of, the big smiling Joe Biden that you see in public in more intimate settings has much sharper elbows. And pushes back hard against against criticism internally, and then will be both mean and, and will lie about his record to kind of push forward. You know, in the 1988 presidential race, you know, he was drummed out primarily for a plagiarism scandal, but also for a major scandal about lying about his involvement in the civil rights movement. And his staff kept telling him, you know, this is a problematic thing for you to say because it’s not true. And he’d say, okay, fine, then he’d go out and continue to say, and he ultimately had to apologize. Here he is 20 years later still saying it.

MH: You mentioned the staff. He’s surrounded by very qualified people. He’s surrounded by very kind of some of the top strategists in the party, and you would expect them to have said to me, you know, Bernie Sanders is gonna bring up your bankruptcy bill, Mr. Vice President, what are you gonna say in response? And did he tell his staff I’m just gonna say it had nothing to do with me, and they signed off on that? Because the Republicans are going to go to town with some attack ads on some of this stuff. Trump and people forget this, Trump attacked Hillary Clinton from the left on Goldman Sachs, on the Iraq war, on mass incarceration. You know, cynical Republicans have no problem kind of, coming at a candidate from the left if they think it’ll divide his base, or keep some of them at home.

RG: Watch, Trump will even thank Joe Biden for passing such a nice bankruptcy law that allowed him to file for bankruptcy four times.

MH: So I tweeted recently and I got attacked by a lot of people because they didn’t believe me. But I tweeted genuinely saying, “Look my problem with Joe Biden, I have many problems with Joe Biden, but my biggest problem with Joe Biden is not that he’s gonna win and be some awful neoliberal shill, although that might be an issue. My biggest problem is I worry he won’t win, that, you know, he’s gonna crash and burn against Donald Trump in the general.” So tonight, Biden made some news by kind of not floating, by saying outright, he’s gonna nominate a female politician as his vice presidential running mate. Were you surprised by that?

RG: Not exactly, because like you said, he has extremely good staff around him. And they clearly calculated accurately that if he made that announcement during the debate that no matter what other flubs there might have been, and you know, they’re never sure what kind of performance he’s going to turn in, that the headline is going to be out of the debate, you know, Biden says he will name of a female VP. And you know, that’s a great headline because it solidifies the idea that Biden is the nominee.

MH: Especially when Bernie Sanders couldn’t commit in the same way. He said I’d be very likely to do that. So Biden got that win there with that answer. Of course, we don’t know who that female candidate is. I saw lots of people cheering on Twitter. You know, if it’s Elizabeth Warren, I’m sure you and I would be pleased especially since you know, she’s got a real chance of being president under a Biden presidency. If it’s Tulsi Gabbard I’m sure lots of those liberals cheering would not be cheering. Obviously, it’s not going to be Tulsi Gabbard but my point being we don’t know who the candidate is. It’s great if it’s a woman because American politics has lacked a woman at the top for far too long, embarrassingly, too long. But yeah, it’s a great move, a calculated move. Who do you think that female candidate would be? Stacey Abrams, that’s always been the chatter with Biden.

RG: Yeah, I think it would be either Abrams, Kamala Harris, or Amy Klobuchar. I don’t see Warren. I don’t think he likes her at all. Anything’s possible, you know if he feels like that’s his path to the ring, then —

MH: Can you imagine if it’s Klobuchar? Can you imagine if it’s Klobuchar? It would just be like the two of them making one gaffe after another, one bad joke after another and then getting smashed on mass incarceration from now until November by left and right.

RG: True, but we have to remember that the situation in November of 2020 is going to bear zero resemblance to the one that we’re sitting in right now. Because we will be either still in the grip of or having come out of, you know, a devastating pandemic that will rip through this country and probably rip through Trump’s approval rating if it hasn’t ripped through him personally.

MH: Although weirdly, if you look at the polls right now, there’s been no dent. He basically sticks at 40% and it doesn’t shift. You know, maybe he has to readjust that famous quote.

I could give coronavirus to a voter in the middle of Fifth Avenue and they wouldn’t stop supporting me.

RG: Right, but if you’re a Trump supporter and Trump has been telling you that this is a hoax and it’s not real and the media is hyping it then of course then there’s no reason yet for you to have turned on Donald Trump because nobody in your community has died yet unless you’re in in Washington state or, you know, the second that it leaves some of the major metropolitan areas and people start being impacted by it, people start seeing people get sick and die, you know then I think that changes.

MH: You know, I think to borrow the language of Donald Rumsfeld, you could call coronavirus the unknown unknown. Nobody really said oh, what if there’s a pandemic in 2020? No one saw it coming. No one gamed in a kind of deadly, once in a 100 year pandemic. On the other hand, as you say the impact, political impact of coronavirus could be what Rumsfeld called a known unknown. We know there’s definitely going to be an impact. I don’t know if it’s going to be definitely negative or not for Trump, because, you know, there’s talk about you know, him saying, oh, let’s postpone the election which obviously, just to be clear to listeners the president cannot do. Congress can only do that. But you know, he could, you know, he’s not unused to using crises to build up his own power, to act more authoritarian, to scapegoat foreigners and the other. It’s not necessarily going to be, I suspect, you know, it probably will be negative for him, and it should be because he’s handled it horrifically badly. But there’s no guarantee of that in this crazy world we now live in.

RG: No, but you know, it’s a world historic level crisis. And I think that’s outside of even his amazing talents of manipulating crisis to his advantage, but I also think both candidates tonight handled the situation poorly. You know, they both had an opportunity to provide some kind of leadership that is desperately missing in this country because of who the president is. And instead they said, you know, our thoughts and prayers are with people. And you know, I’m washing my hands more times than I can count.

MH: Biden talked about having a sanitizer in his bag or something.

RG: Right, that’s great. I’m glad he does. But they didn’t say stay inside. They didn’t emphasize what they need to do. And Biden even said, “Well, I don’t have any of those risk factors that you mentioned, even though Dana Bash said one of them was over 70. So he’s kind of contributing to the denial by suggesting that if you didn’t recently have a heart attack, then this isn’t something that you need to worry about, which kind of dovetails with his tweet from earlier before the debate where he was telling everybody if you feel healthy, and you’re not at risk of catching Covid-19, you should go out and vote which is absurd, who’s not at risk?

MH: I tweeted in response saying is there like a Kryptonian among us who can just pop out and is immune to human illnesses, Superman.

RG: What he meant is if you’re a dog.

MH: As you say, I would have liked to see them unite to say two things. Number one, Donald Trump, you know, is the cause of unnecessary deaths that are coming your way. And they call that politicizing a crisis, I don’t care. It’s factually true. And number two, they should have looked down the barrel of the camera and said, stay the fuck at home. Unless you have to go out, unless your job doesn’t allow you to go out, unless you have to go out for groceries, whatever it is, but the kind of mass gatherings we’ve seen over the weekend, the kind of stuff in Boston, the bars being full in New York, that should have top Democrats calling that out.

RG: Which then brings you to the question of what top Democrats should do about the mass gathering on Tuesday in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio, the Democratic primaries. The CDC is telling people that there ought not to be gatherings of 50 or more people, other health officials are saying that 50 is way too high of a number for them to put out. But let’s say they go with 50. There’s no way you hold an in-person primary on Tuesday and comply with those guidelines and nobody seems —

MH: So, what do you think should happen? What do you think can happen? Last question.

RG: I think they should postpone them and move them to mail elections. It’s not worth, you know, exponentially exploding the pandemic especially when, if Biden wins, he continues to cruise to the nomination. And if Sanders wins, the party officials will say, “Well, look, this was weird. There was super low turnout, you’ve disenfranchised a bunch of old people that couldn’t vote, so we’re going to invalidate these and do them over again.” So Sanders is literally in a no win situation. In order to prevent the pandemic from exploding, I think they have to postpone them.

MH: The pandemic is the big story, rightly so for the rest of the year, the Democratic debates were dominating our headlines in recent weeks. Is it over for Bernie after this debate, he’s done?

RG: I don’t see a path for him for the reasons that we kind of said. Now if they do end up postponing it, and Biden continues to, you know, perform poorly out on the campaign trail, maybe but he doesn’t have to go out on the campaign trail. He can cite the pandemic and just do his you know, Facebook town halls where he wanders aimlessly off of camera. You know, his performance tonight did not inspire confidence that this is the guy you want going into this life or death battle against President Trump. But right now, he’s the guy unless something dramatic happens.

MH: Ryan, always great having you on the show for your analysis. Thanks so much for joining us.

RG: Have a good evening.

MH: That was Ryan Grim, the Intercept’s DC bureau chief, author of a fascinating book on the modern history of the Democratic Party, “We’ve Got People.”

And that’s our show. Stay safe people. Try and stay indoors unless you have to go out. And take it from this Muslim: stay away from crowded bars. You can drink at home. Seriously. You can.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week, even on nights like this one, special nights. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

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