With President Trump’s re-election launch behind us, the attention turns to the spirited contest for the right to face him next November. The big inflection point on the Democratic side comes next week in Miami and the first debate that will launch the primary season into second gear.

Because the field of contenders is nearly two dozen deep, the debates are happening over two nights. When the line-up first became public, many in the chattering class declared Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren the winner for getting the first night. "Elizabeth Warren’s lucky debate draw" blared Politico’s "Playbook." A headline from Time Magazine declared "Elizabeth Warren Just Won the Debate Scheduling."

The logic went something like this: drawing the so-called under-card against lesser-known opponents would give Warren more of an opportunity to shine. She would have the limelight to herself, apart from the feeding frenzy of political attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden expected to drive night two.


It wasn’t the first or last time the Beltway pundits missed the mark.

By all demonstrable standards, Warren is enjoying a moment right now. She’s climbing in the national polls and closing the gap with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the early states. One recent survey showed Warren topping Biden and Sanders in Minnesota, an especially embarrassing factoid for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, mired in fourth place in the state she represents in the Senate.

Both Trump and the Republican National Committee are turning their attention to Warren, hoping to blunt her momentum early. It’s a wise move, as she is a threat and should be treated as such.

Both Trump and the Republican National Committee are turning their attention to Warren, hoping to blunt her momentum early. It’s a wise move, as she is a threat and should be treated as such.

With all this in mind, will the order of the first debate really matter in the long run? It could. For starters, Biden’s support is softening, but he remains the tallest tree. With her skills on a debate stage and her open disdain for the former VP, Warren is the best person to chop Biden down. Now, she won’t get the opportunity for direct conflict for at least another month at the second debate in Detroit.

Debate moments don’t just happen — they’re created. In April, Warren became the first in the field to take a swing at Biden when she accused him of being on "the side of the credit card companies." That broadside came at a rally when all the other candidates were also campaigning and thus much harder to break through. Imagine the attack occurring in a vacuum with the eyes of the political world focused on it.

Warren is also known as a formidable opponent on the debate stage, which has never been Biden’s most comfortable setting.

Not only does getting stuck at the kids’ table deny Warren to litigate her differences with Biden, it also prevents her from differentiating from Bernie Sanders.

With their shared worldview and ideology, it’s easy to see why voters and pundits tend to conflate the two neighboring New England senators. It’s not surprising that Warren’s rise in the polls has coincided with Sanders' fall. But there is an important distinction: Sanders has owned and doubled down on his socialist identity, while Warren has claimed she is a "capitalist to my bones." Voters need to understand what that means, and what better way for that to happen than direct debate conflict.


Being the leading candidate on the stage means increased scrutiny from others looking up at her in the polls. A herd this crowded will be thinned. If you’re a candidate low on money and momentum, the writing is on the wall that the end is near. Why not go out in a blaze of glory with the world watching?

Warren has vulnerabilities, both on her false claims to minority status and her history as a corporate attorney. Her recent momentum has caught the attention of her competitors on both the left and right and re-shuffled the debate stakes. It should be fascinating to watch it all play out.