Chris Cillizza’s Debate Ratings: Moderation Rules, Sanders Sucks


Amy Klobuchar was the big winner of last night’s debate and Bernie Sanders was the big loser, according to CNN’s Chris Cillizza. That’s not terribly surprising given that for Cillizza, Sanders has generally performed badly and the Great Moderate Hope of the moment has shined ever since the first debate back in June.

Today, Cillizza named Sanders as last night’s No. 1 loser. In fact, he was the only real loser because Cillizza somehow listed Pete Buttigieg as both a winner and a loser and no one else appeared in the latter category other than an entity called “The first hour of the debate.” Sanders topped the list because, “No matter what question he was asked, he seemed to give the same answer. Millionaires and billionaires are destroying this country.” Which is apparent to most people and a strong message to most Democratic voters, but since Cillizza disapproves, it counts as a negative.

Meanwhile, Klobuchar also “drove home her basic message” — this being “I’m from the Midwest. I’m a woman. I get things done” — but in her case repetition was not a problem. Joe Biden was also a winner because he promoted “the need to build consensus and work with Republicans.” Ah, bipartisanship, the media’s highest aspiration.

Sanders was also the big loser, in Cillizza’s view, after the first round of debates on June 26 and June 27. “Rather than passionate, Sanders came off as just plain loud,” he wrote. “Rather than committed, he came across as repetitive.” Curiously, one of the winners of the event was Donald Trump, because an “extended conversation about eliminating all private insurance” and Elizabeth Warren “fully embracing decriminalizing illegal immigration” would be “music to the President’s ears” as it would allow him to “cast Democrats as deeply out of touch and representative of a creeping socialism.”

Of the six debates so far, Cillizza rated Sanders as winning only once, on July 30. Even then he “probably came across to some people as irascible and scoldy,” but liberals looking for him to “stand up proudly and unapologetically for the need for huge structural change in our politics and our culture got exactly what they wanted,” he wrote. Cillizza gave Sanders a positive review in just one other debate, even though he was once again “irascible,” and in two others didn’t even bother mentioning Sanders as a candidate.

Cillizza’s debate ratings are clearly based on his own bland political preferences, and hence his approval has generally been the kiss of death. He raved about Montana Governor Steve Bullock after the July debate, rating him as the second place finisher. Even though Sanders had won, Cillizza said Bullock had stood out as a “viable moderate alternative” and “made clear, time and time again, that he did not believe that the liberal views of Warren and Sanders were grounded in reality.”

Cillizza has rated Buttigieg favorably in five out of six debates, calling him “serious, smart, thoughtful and probing” back in June. He’s praised Klobuchar three times, saying after the November debate that she’d made a strong bid for the “pragmatic center lane.” He’s twice acclaimed the debate performances of Corey Booker, Andrew Yang, Julián Castro and Kamala Harris.

Somehow Sanders has a lousy message and performs terrible at the debates, but everyone who beats him has dropped out or trails him badly in most polls.

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