Democratic presidential candidates unleashed withering attacks on Bernie Sanders in a boisterous debate in South Carolina on Tuesday, assailing his ambitious economic agenda and warning his nomination would be a “catastrophe” that would cost Democrats the White House and control of Congress.
In a debate that featured candidates repeatedly shouting over one another and ignoring their time limits, Sanders’ opponents united in attacking the self-avowed democratic socialist as a risky choice to face Republican President Donald Trump in November.
“Bernie will lose to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red,” billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, adding that would be “a catastrophe.”
Pete Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, criticized Sanders for the shifting estimates on the costs of his proposals such as government-run healthcare and warned that the front-runner would bring about chaos.
“I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said.
“If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump.”
Sanders, a senator from Vermont, has taken command of the Democratic race after his resounding win last week in Nevada, and the debate was the last chance for his opponents to try to stop his momentum before Saturday’s South Carolina primary and next week’s 14 vital Super Tuesday contests.
Under incoming fire, Sanders largely held his ground. He defended healthcare as a human right and said his economic and social justice agenda, including his Medicare for All plan that would replace private health insurance with a government-run program, is supported by the American people.
“If you want to beat Trump, what you’re going to need is an unprecedented grassroots movement of black and white and Latino, Native American and Asian people who are standing up and fighting for justice. That’s what our movement is about,” Sanders said.
Underscoring the high stakes of Tuesday’s debate, even Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts and a progressive ally of Sanders, took a swing at her old friend.
“I think I would make a better president than Bernie. And the reason for that is that getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard,” said Warren, who is trying to revive her struggling campaign after poor showings in the first three nominating contests. “I dug in, I did the work, and then Bernie’s team trashed me.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is seeking to become the moderate alternative to Sanders but so far has failed to make an impact, said neither Sanders nor Warren had shown the leadership in the Senate to accomplish much.
“It matters if you can actually get things done,” she said.