If life were fair — and in case you’re somehow still left wondering, it isn’t — Mike Bloomberg would now be a dead mega-billionaire walking.
In Wednesday night’s debate/free for all in Las Vegas, Bloomberg was sliced, diced, quartered, slaughtered, and, yes, eviscerated to a fare-thee-well, mostly by Elizabeth Warren, who reminded everyone why she was a championship debater, but also by every other Democrat in sight.
This was Bloomberg’s debut on the Democratic primary debate stage, and let’s say it was uglier than Rod Blagojevich’s get-out-of-jail-free card. Bloomberg brings an unprecedented $62 billion of his own money to the fight and hopes the $62 billion may yet save his campaign, but it couldn’t protect him when Warren and others pulled back the curtain to reveal a flawed and stunningly unprepared candidate. I’m sure Donald Trump must have enjoyed the carnage, but he couldn’t have enjoyed the thought of sharing a debate stage with Warren, whose campaign was previously all but left for dead after her weak fourth place showing in New Hampshire.
You may have seen it, or at least seen the clips, but here was Warren’s opening thrust: “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against, a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg. Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like red lining and stop and frisk.”
It went downhill from there. When Bloomberg tried to defend his record on women by saying — a la Trump — that he had hired many women to significant positions, Warren replied, “I hope you heard what his defense was: ‘I’ve been nice to some women.’ That just doesn’t cut it.”
And then further down the apparently endless hill, Warren challenged Bloomberg on how many nondisclosure agreements his female employees had signed — he wouldn’t say — and why he wouldn’t release the women from the NDAs to tell their side of the story. And in what may have been Bloomberg’s worst moment, although the competition is fierce, he said the agreements were signed “consensually” — as if, you know, they weren’t payoffs for silence — and that “None of them accuse me of anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”
“A joke I told” is code for uncomfortable workplace. Bloomie will get the NDA question until the end of time or at least until the end of his primary season, whichever comes first. It’s easy enough to say that Donald Trump survived similar attacks and is now, god help us, president. But I’ve met Donald Trump, and Mike Bloomberg is no Donald Trump, for which we can all be thankful, except for those rich criminals waiting to be criminally pardoned by the president.
Joe Biden, who finished a disappointing fourth in Iowa and even more disappointing fifth in New Hampshire, piled on Bloomberg. He wanted to swing and hit both Bloomberg and Bernie, the true front-runner, but pretty much missed on Bernie. Pete Buttigieg had the non-Warren line of the night — and you can name at least six of Warren’s — when he took on Bloomie and Bernie, saying, “We’ve got to wake up as a party. We could wake up two weeks from today, the day after Super Tuesday, and the only candidates left standing will be Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg, the two most polarizing figures on this stage. And most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks that money ought to be the root of all power.”
But Buttigieg spent most of his time slamming Amy Klobuchar, whose performance was possibly the worst of her debate season. Her earlier inability to name the Mexican president to Telemundo was topped by her being unable to explain any of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s policies. I’m thinking Klobuchar may be a one-off. And I doubt the fight, which seemed petty much of the time, helped Buttigieg.
And so, back to fairness and why politics, if not beanbag, is also not for the weak of bank account. For any candidate other than Bloomberg, this disastrous debut would be the end of the story. I mean, how many disqualifying moments are you allowed before you’re, well, disqualified?
We’re about to find out. Money, as the song goes, can’t buy you love, but it has brought $400 million worth of campaign ads in less than three months. Bloomie will continue to flood the market with excellently produced, look-I’m-standing-next-to-Barack-Obama-as-if-he-were-endorsing-me ads that are running in every Super Tuesday state. In the March 3 vote — or for Coloradans, voting any time up to and including March 3 — more than a third of the delegates to the national convention will be chosen.
This is a test. How much does social media matter? How much does word of mouth matter? How much does the evening news matter? How much does cable matter? Bloomberg’s disastrous showing will dominate the news before the Nevada vote Saturday. And yet, Bloomberg won’t even be in the race until Super Tuesday, by which time many more people will have seen Bloomberg’s ads than this debate.
Bloomberg had been untouchable. He doesn’t do many interviews. He might as well have been the world’s richest apparition. He hadn’t appeared in any debates before a last-second poll bought his way onto the Las Vegas state. Let’s say he could have spent his money better. He has said he’ll spend whatever it takes to beat Trump, whether or not he’s the candidate, and Democrats will gladly accept his money.
The irony is that Sanders was the true beneficiary of the Bloomie disaster. He was the same Bernie who always shows, but was called on nasty Bernie Bros supporters and his not-yet-complete release of medical records and why he can’t put a price tag on Medicare for All. He may be an unaccountably cranky frontrunner, but that is part of his charm. He came to the debate with a solid lead in nearly every poll and almost certainly left the debate in the same position. The hits on Sanders were invisible, sort of like Bloomberg’s debating skills, but don’t be surprised if Sanders takes the hits next time.
Everyone expects Bernie to win the Nevada caucuses, which come this Saturday. The caucuses have already seen a huge early vote — don’t ask me how you vote early in caucuses, but they do in Nevada — and this debate may come too late in the process to register.
But Warren, who once enjoyed front-runner status, needed a huge debate to rekindle her campaign. And with Bloomberg as a foil, Warren did that and more. Biden’s electability argument has failed to this point. Bloomie’s was filleted. And now Warren, who has been unable to compete with Bernie on the left, is making the case that she’s the electable candidate. For a night it worked. There are lots of other nights and days to go.