The end of Joe Biden as a serious candidate for president

Not a great night for Bernie. A "breakout" for Kamala Harris. Elizabeth Warren still the overall winner -- but Biden is done, period.

The second round of the Great Debate tonight — and it’s a flawed concept — started with a kind of bogus question about socialism. John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, was asked about “socialism,” and said that if the Democratic Party supported socialism, Trump would win.

Bernie Sanders had a great chance to respond: When Social Security was approved, it was called “socialism.” When Medicare was passed, it was called “socialist.” Instead, he talked about what a liar Trump is.

Kamala Harris had a breakout moment.

That set the tone for the debate that was not a great night for Sanders, who seemed on the defensive. He wasn’t able to explain how his health-care plan would actually work in effect (which is hard in 45 seconds).

In a later interview, Sanders said that for all the good ideas out there, there is no way that any of them will happen as long as the corporate power structure is in place. But he got overshadowed by the drama of a clash between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

It was a terrible night for Biden, who looked confused, incoherent – and got his ass handed to him by Kamala Harris. What we saw tonight was the end of Joe Biden as a serious candidate for president.

Harris went after Biden over immigration policy – she said that she opposed the Obama Administration’s deportation policies. Then she pushed him, dramatically, on civil rights. She said that she was a student who was bused to a school to encourage racial equity – and she pushed him on why he opposed busing.

Biden said he didn’t oppose busing – he just opposed a federal mandate. He looked like a fool – Harris made it clear that civil-rights legislation exists because some states have blocked efforts to fight racism.

Joe Biden is done. He could have admitted that he was wrong, way back when — instead, he tried to defend something indefensible.

Harris had that “moment.” She was also the only person, other than Bernie Sanders, who said she would abolish private health insurance. (The next day, she backed down.) And she came off very strong on gun control.

Pete Buttigieg came under attack for a white police officer shooting a black man in his hometown – and he admitted that his police force is not diverse enough. “I couldn’t get it done,” he said, “it’s a mess and we’re hurting.” Unlike Biden, he seemed willing to take responsibility.

A couple of takeaways from the past two days:

The “frontrunner” status of Biden is over. I can’t imagine any democrat watching tonight and saying he is our next president.

In the spin sense, Bernie Sanders did not have a great night – but on a policy level, he has shifted the Democratic Party in a profound way. All of the candidates who have a serious chance of winning the nomination have adopted at least some of the economic-justice agenda. In terms of issues, Bernie Sanders has already won the debate.

Eric Swalwell will become a joke on Saturday Night Live because he kept saying that he wanted to “pass the torch” to a new generation. He said it three times.

Harris and Buttigieg came off well on gun control. Biden, again failed – he said that the enemy was the “gun manufacturers, not the NRA.”

There was very little discussion of foreign policy – although Biden had a bad answer to why he voted in favor of the Iraq War, and Sanders made it clear that he was one of those to lead the efforts against the war.

And there wasn’t enough discussion of economic justice, despite Sanders’ efforts.

I still think the person who did the best in this two-night speed-dating session was Elizabeth Warren.

It was the end of Biden and the emergence of Julian Castro, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris as contenders.

Now we need to talk about how any of them other than Sanders and Warren will address the fact that radical economic inequality and climate change are an existential threat to this country and the world — and will require profound new economic policies that start with income and wealth redistribution.

So far, Harris, Castro, and Buttigieg have largely ignored or ducked that reality.

The limited discussion of student debt and economic issues was infuriating: There was talk from Buttigieg about refinancing student debt. Biden talked about hiring more teachers. But education alone isn’t going to solve economic inequality, and training for the “jobs of the future” won’t fix the fact that there is no economic future as long as the top one percent control so much of the wealth of society.

Let’s see if the candidates who did well tonight can make that case to the American people — who, according to the most recent polls, still think Bernie Sanders is the best hope to beat Donald Trump.