Raise your hand if you predicted that Amy Klobuchar would be invited to the final Democratic Party debate before the Iowa Caucuses but Kamala Harris wouldn’t be, or if you thought there would be a mayor on the stage but no governors. Who believed billionaire Tom Steyer would be there but Cory Booker and Julián Castro would not?
There have been some surprises in the Democrats’ campaign so far, but one thing seemed predictable: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders would be near the top of the pack. The media puts them at the top of the moderate and progressive camps, respectively, with Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar joining Biden and Elizabeth Warren joining Sanders. Steyer is a bit of a wildcard.
Meanwhile, there are still some people who are technically running but didn’t make the cut, like businessman Andrew Yang and Senator Michael Bennet. And there is former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg, both of whom got into the race very late.
The debate will air at 9 p.m. ET and be televised on CNN. Someone on that stage will almost certainly win the Iowa Caucuses and seize the early momentum in the race. At some point, though, they will have to reckon with Bloomberg, who is running a completely unconventional campaign. Here is how Michael Scherer of the Washington Post describes it:
He has large ambitions, but his immediate electoral strategy is focused on winning the contests that begin in March. In this sense, the early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are really about discovering if a single person can be found to take on Bloomberg or if he’ll face a scattered opposition.
This doesn’t make Tuesday’s debate unimportant, but it does cast it in a different light. Most people have been focused on deciding which candidate is best able to take on Donald Trump, but before they can get to him they will have to vanquish a different New York billionaire.
I’m sure this will come up during the debate, and perhaps Tom Steyer will argue that it takes a billionaire to beat billionaires. If he’s convincing, it will another sign that we’re beginning to resemble the oligarchic system that prevails in the former Soviet Union more than we resemble ourselves.
In the meantime, we’ll see more jousting among the progressive and moderate wings, as they compete to be the alternative to Bloombergism.