It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane …

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If Bernie Sanders were a superhero, his name would most certainly be Teflon Man.

Throughout his nearly three decades in Congress, he has shown an uncanny ability to shrug off all kinds of criticism — from his postnuptial travels to the Soviet Union to the heart attack he had in the midst of his presidential campaign.

It’s a political phenomenon I wrote about over the weekend, after the disclosure on Friday that intelligence officials believe Russia has been interfering in the 2020 race to help his candidacy.

Last night’s debate posed the biggest test to date of Mr. Sanders’s political superpowers.

Early indications were that it would be Mr. Sanders’s time in the barrel. In the days before the debate, Joe Biden hit him on guns, health care and reports that he considered a primary challenge against President Barack Obama in 2012. Aides to Michael Bloomberg accused Mr. Sanders of being the candidate handpicked by President Vladimir Putin.

That’s where the knifing started Tuesday night, with Mr. Bloomberg arguing that Russia is helping Mr. Sanders get the Democratic nomination.

Mr. Sanders brushed it off, then parried the attack by questioning Mr. Bloomberg’s record in China. “Let me tell Mr. Putin, I’m not a good friend of President Xi of China,” he said, alluding to Mr. Bloomberg’s business interests in the country and his comments last year that Xi Jinping is “not a dictator.”

Other attacks on Mr. Sanders — over his praise for Fidel Castro, his electability, the costs of his plans, his support for the filibuster — seemed to go along the same lines. The charge was leveled by Mr. Biden or Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar and then brushed away by Mr. Sanders.

And then, the other candidates, somewhat mystifyingly, dropped the argument.

Some of this was the fault of the moderators, who were often unwilling to press lines of questioning. After Mr. Biden accused Mr. Sanders of causing “carnage on our streets” by voting for a law he said undermined efforts to hold gun manufacturers accountable for mass shootings, the moderators opted against following up.

But their conversation didn’t get any more heated than that last night. Given Mr. Sanders’s standing in the race, that kind of kid-glove treatment could end up handing him the nomination.

From our colleague Shane Goldmacher:

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