NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start.
Warren – who Trump dubbed “Pocahontas” because of her phony claim of Native American heritage – was the only Democrat on stage who had mustered double digits in recent polling. Moderators let her dominate the early part of the debate, when most people were likely watching.
NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. “You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,” Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.
The networks did it again halfway through. At 10 p.m. EDT, after some embarrassing tech issues that let Warren mull a question for several minutes, the debate went full-on pro-Democrat. NBC brought in bigtime liberal MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. Once more they turned to Warren to set the agenda by asking her a gun control question;
“We are less than 50 miles from Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in a school shooting last year and where there has been significant activism on gun violence ever since,” began Todd.
NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary.
And, in case that wasn’t clear enough, the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the “final, final statement.” That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.
The Twitter account of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii made the same point. With a signature as “-V (Tulsi's sister),” it slammed the network. “It's clear who MSNBC wants to be president: Elizabeth Warren. They're giving her more time than all the other candidates combined. They aren't giving any time to Tulsi at all.”
The time element evened out a bit. Warren ended up third, according to The New York Times. Reporter Nick Corasaniti? tweeted that, prior to the “45 second closing statements,” Booker came in first with former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke second. Warren came in a solid third for time.
CNN political commentator Van Jones was much like NBC. He started and ended the night in the Warren camp. Going in, he described Warren as “the massive star of the night.”
Jones was positive about all the candidates but continued to back the senator from Massachusetts. “Elizabeth Warren looked like a college professor with a bunch of graduate students around her half the time. She is able to go back and forth between policy and the human thing better than anybody,” he concluded.
While Warren certainly did well with the network assist, MSNBC host Chris Matthews made a good point afterward, crediting former Vice President Joe Biden – who debates Thursday night – with the victory.
“I think the winner tonight, though, was probably Joe Biden because, to quote Sherlock Holmes, the dog wasn't barking tonight,” Matthews said. “No one took on the Democratic frontrunner the whole two hours.”
Where Was Trump?
We all live in President Trump’s America – whether you like it or not. But Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio never even mentioned Trump. Just as Biden was left unscathed, Trump didn’t muster a lot of attention either.
According to NBC News, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota led the pack with nine mentions of the president. But the elephant in the room still dominated. MSNBC anchor Brian Williams even made a Harry Potter-Lord Voldemort allusion by referring to Trump as “he who will not be mentioned,” in a post-debate recap.
Perhaps it was Trump’s threat to tweet during the debate that had Dems running scared. Even though he never went on a tweet storm, he still tossed in a few comments. These included a damning comment 35 minutes in, calling the debate “BORING!” and criticizing the tech failures. He followed that by tweeting a humorous animation of Trump campaign signs all the way up to “Trump 2048.”
The official Trump response to the debate annoyed New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman?, who complained on Twitter: “Trump campaign issues six-paragraph statement in response to debate potus called boring. It’s so long I can’t screenshot it all.”
Former CBS anchor Dan Rather noted some candidates spoke a bit of Spanish and used it to attack Trump. “I think there are more candidates on stage who speak Spanish more fluently than our president speaks English,” he wrote.
Author and New America fellow Jill Filipovic summarized liberal frustrations with the president. “The fact that any one of these people may actually lose to Donald Trump is such an indictment of our country,” she tweeted.
Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway mocked when former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro went extreme on abortion, calling for “reproductive justice.”
“Julian Castro says he supports abortion for women who identify as men as well,” Hemingway commented. “Audience cheers. This bloody abortion fest is off the rails. Expect media reaction to be muted, however, since they are radical partisans on the issue.”
Most of the candidates wanted a breakout moment. Vanity Fair tweeted somewhat fairly that, “Of all the men and women seeking the White House, perhaps 5 or 6 have a fighting chance. Everyone else is effectively fighting for scraps.”
At least six of those on stage Wednesday night could walk down the streets of most American cities and go unrecognized. They are all trying desperately to use media exposure to change that.