Krystal Ball rips media for going ‘all-in’ on Buttigieg’s debate performance

Getty Images

Opinion by: Krystal Ball

I know you guys were busy watching Rising’s debate coverage so you may have missed Chris Cillizza’s debate winners and losers over on CNN. Well ladies and gentlemen, I will deny you no longer! Apparently per Cillizza, it was Mayor Pete who “won” this week’s debate! Here in part is what he said:

“The South Bend mayor had one clear goal in the debate: hit Elizabeth Warren on her support for Medicare for All…” Cilizza continues, “from beginning to end, Buttigieg was a dominant and commanding force. Yes, some will say he was “mean.” but debates — and primaries! — are about drawing contrasts.”

Hilariously, in the last debate back in September, Julian Castro was declared by Cillizza to be the big debate “loser.” why? He was too mean! Here’s Cillizza using almost exactly the same construction to draw the completely opposite conclusion.

Cillizza said: “The former San Antonio mayor had a clear plan going into this debate: go after Biden…” but apparently while Buttigieg was commanding and definitely not mean “this is a primary!” Castro got it all wrong. Per Cillizza: “the attack wound up making Biden look sympathetic…and made Castro look small.”

In fairness, though, it’s not only Cillizza who found much to admire in Mayor Pete’s performance. It was also highly rated by the New York Times, where Will Wilkinson exclaimed that: “he went to the mat for moderation, waging precision attacks on pie-in-the-sky radicalism to his left.”

Dylan Mathews over at Vox writes: “Pete Buttigieg emerged on Tuesday night as the marquee candidate of the centrist Democratic party, and he did so by emulating a political move from an unlikely model: Bernie Sanders.”


And the always dependable Jennifer Rubin over at the Washington Post wrote a whole column fawning over both Pete and Amy Klobuchar’s “standout performances.”

Did these people watch the same debate I did? Pete was praised for launching the same dumb Medicare for All attack that we’ve heard from someone or another at every debate and for obliging the CNN moderators by continuing the grudge match with Beto O’Rourke that no one wanted or asked for.

But maybe my favorite take was from Van Jones, who described the desire for everyone to have health care the way every other developed country does as “wokenomics,” and then went on to outright predict the field would narrow to Warren and Pete!

Pistol Pete versus Warren the selfie queen. There is no doubt that this would be the dream matchup of every post-grad holding, Harvard envying, McKinsey-adjacent pundit in the land. Just imagine the plans and the civility and the erudition. No word on what would have happened to Bernie and his 1.4 million donors and 33 million dollars in the bank to say nothing of his working-class supporters. Or for that matter where the older black voters who have solidly supported Biden would have magically vanished to.

Guys, I think we have enough evidence to officially declare that the media has decided to pull mayor Pete off the gurney and resuscitate his failing presidential run. After all, Biden is looking sad in his presentation and pathetic in his fundraising and for heaven’s sakes, we all know that some moderate or another is supposed to be able to compete! With millions in the bank and a few polls showing him performing well in Iowa, Pete’s been called up from the bench to star in the role of moderate savior of the democratic party.

The theory of the case being offered by Pete’s campaign and various uncritically thinking pundits is that as Biden fades, Pete will benefit. After all, they are both moderates and so moderate voters leaving Biden will create a visual data analysis of similarly moderate candidates, and circle the nearest like-minded compatriot.

There’s only one problem. One flaw in the McKinsey matrix. This is not remotely how voters choose their candidates. The fact is that Pete and Biden don’t appeal to remotely the same group of voters. Namely, Biden owes his strong positioning in the polls to older African American voters, a demographic group with which Pete polls somewhere around zero percent. In a recent you gov/economist poll, only 12% of black voters said they were even considering the remote possibility of voting for Buttigieg versus 64% for Biden and 47% for Sanders. Only 1% actually said they were planning to vote for Pete as opposed to 37% for Biden. In the same poll in terms of class, Biden has a relative strength with working class voters, while Buttigieg has his worst performance with working class voters. But you know who does share similar coalition strengths? Warren and Buttigieg. In other words, if Buttigieg were to rise, it would most likely come at the expense of Elizabeth Warren. And so dear friends, I’m afraid the Woodstock of technocrats, Warren versus Pete, wonk on wonk violence is not to be. Don’t bother trying to break it to our friends at CNN and the Times and the Post. They’re too busy doing the important journalistic work of attributing Sanders’ best debate lines to Warren (yes that really happened), slamming the left for their wokenomics, and asking hard hitting questions about friendship.

Featured clips