STATESBORO, GEORGIA – There were debates on both sides of the aisle this week, but chances are, you weren’t watching. There are different reasons for why, and could include having something better to do on a Tuesday or Saturday night, or just being plain tired of all this nonsense. Both are valid, for the record, and there’s a great chance the Democratic National Committee was counting on you not watching anyway.

Bernie Sanders seems to think so anyway. After a few days of internal bickering, Sanders has gone on record as saying the DNC structured this year’s debate schedule in order to help Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and he’s not alone. Martin O’Malley, who is fading faster than a holiday flash sale, has been screaming as much from the mountaintops and the vice-chairs of the party and liberal pundits around the country are echoing the claim.

Sanders has a case, and that case has only been bolstered after this week’s voter registration controversy that briefly injected the Democratic race with some much-needed drama when a computer glitch allowed staffers in the Sanders’ campaign a brief glimpse at Clinton data. Upper-tier campaigns are typically granted access to party records, which serve as a basis for their own research and footwork, and those files are shared equally among the contenders. After the momentary access, the kind of thing that happens regularly in races at this level, the DNC immediately publicized the infraction, whereas traditionally these matters are handled in-house and never mentioned to the press, and suspended Sanders’ privileges, a huge breech in etiquette that could’ve crippled Bernie’s chances in Iowa and possibly even New Hampshire, where he’s held a lead for months.

The Sanders campaign filed a lawsuit against the DNC and an agreement to reestablish access was reached overnight Friday, but the damage, as they say, is done. Not only did the campaign lose vital hours with the numbers, which could cost an entire primary and necessary momentum, but the publicization also sullied Sanders’ reputation and potentially branded him a dirty politician, an image he’s fought his entire career to avoid.

The question going into Saturday’s debate was whether Bernie and Hillary would snipe with each other at their podium, which ended up not being the case even though O’Malley stuck with a scripted line criticizing his rivals for “bickering” as they both agreed to move on, but the real query coming out is whether moving forward Sanders can mount anything approaching an actual opposition.

We seemingly got our answer on ABC, which botched the broadcast Saturday in bafflingly stupid ways – including one odd moment in which they returned from commercial and their audience was still being seated and Secretary Clinton hadn’t returned to the stage – before continuing the awful trend of networks believing their moderators are the reason people have tuned in. It’s been the case since the 2008 Primaries, but these channels continue to fumble their civic duty by confusing actual debates of issues with simultaneous interviews, a confusion that not only robs the candidates of platforms but the voters of substantive discussion. David Muir, the head of hair who apparently now hosts ABC’s Nightly News, as if you were watching anyway, snapped at O’Malley every time he tried to speak and wouldn’t allow Hillary or Bernie to actually engage with one another on any issue other than the fate and origin of the Libyan crisis.

But among the disaster of a broadcast, which only a small audience of eight million bothered to watch, we discovered something damning and irrefutable: this portion of the primary, the one in which Sanders mounts anything resembling a competitive campaign, is effectively over. With the terror attacks in Paris and California, we’re done talking about the economy, the Middle Class, and education. There’s no more room for income inequality either or even a sliver of room for campaign finance reform. What we want to discuss now, and will discuss until November of next year, is how to destroy ISIS and whether the person proposing the plan is “strong enough” or “bold enough.”

Clinton’s no longer speaking to Sanders or O’Malley or even the Democratic base, she’s focusing on Trump, Rubio, and Cruz, all of whom have already trained their efforts in discrediting her history as Secretary of State and painting her as a weak, older woman. Even this morning Trump was on Meet The Press critiquing Clinton for taking too long in returning from her bathroom break and used the phrase “weak” and “tired” nearly a dozen times.

Sanders is now competing more or less for a primetime speaking slot at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia next July, a spot, I doubt, he’ll get regardless of how many contests he wins, the ceiling of which now seems to hover somewhere between two and three, if you count New Hampshire, where he could still steal an early state, and his home turf of Vermont.

The good news though is that we’re heading into the holiday political break, a time when candidates leave the public alone for a month to gather with family and feast on college football. When they return in mid-January it’ll be time for the push into primary season, but the insiders have already called these races. The sharks have their money on Clinton and Cruz taking Iowa and Trump calling the entire state imbeciles with one of the most-watched and most-shared post-election speeches of all time. In New Hampshire, there’s still a chance of Bernie and Jeb Bush running strong, however, once the winners of Iowa swoop into the Granite State with momentum at their backs, it’s anybody’s guess what’ll happen.

Well, on the Republican side anyway. With the Democrats it’s Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, and only a matter of how long it takes for the matter to be decided. And it’s apparent the answer is sooner than you would’ve thought.


Photo: American politics by vin ganapathy