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Swing State Pres
Thursday, February 20, 2020
BTRTN Nevada Debate Analysis: The Bloomberg is Off the Rose
Seeming to be expecting a cordial coronation, Michael
Bloomberg got a baptism in fire last night in his first Presidential debate. He learned a painful lesson from Elizabeth Warren: it is not how much money is in the fight, but how much fight is
in the money.
There are a whole lotta things that $52 billion dollars can
buy, one of which is to make a $350 million advertising spending spree feel like the
rest of us do when we splurge for the side of fries with our burger.
And then there are things that fifty-two billion dollars cannot
Last night in Las Vegas, Mike Bloomberg discovered what eight
debates, dozens of town halls, hundreds of hours on selfie lines, and thousands
of hours talking one-on-one to actual living, breathing voters earned the other
candidates: ready, razor-sharp, battle-tested one-minute answers to just about
any conceivable question on the planet earth.
Worse still: Bloomberg discovered that his competitors on
the stage had learned in prior debates how to skewer an opponent on a clear
area of vulnerability, and how to keep twisting the knife until an impatient
moderator, a commercial break, or a complete bleed-out put an end to the agony.
Elizabeth Warren, in particular, came battle-ready with a take-down strategy
aimed at the new kid on the block, and she was devastatingly effective.
Las Vegas was the perfect setting for an explosive stage
show in which a seasoned troupe of performers each had to place big bets. All
week, cable anchors had been hoisting crystal balls and haughtily informing
their viewers that the campaign was already a “two person race” between
Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders. In so doing, they summarily dismissed the extremely
impressive Iowa and New Hampshire finishes of Pete Buttigieg, the surging
“Klomentum” of Amy Klobuchar, all while effectively administering last rites to
the flatlining the campaigns of Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.Everyone on the stage knew that they needed
to score their viral moment, least they die a death by a thousand pundits.
And the results were simple: all the battle-tested veterans
of a year of campaigning were tough as nails, and Michael Bloomberg staggered
off the stage finally understanding that $52 billion does not buy on-the-ground
Mike Bloomberg is in this game big time, and he certainly
is not going away. But his first performance in a presidential debate was akin
to the overconfident splat of a high-diver who did not notice that the pool had
been drained. Bloomberg came into the evening expecting to elicit three puffs
of white smoke from a party that is craving a sure bet. At times halting and
unsteady, other times arrogant and aloof, and in one shocking instance thoroughly
unprepared for an obvious question, the former Mayor of New York may have
single-handedly reinvigorated the sagging campaigns of Elizabeth Warren and Joe
Biden. Still more profound: in absorbing all the incoming for the evening,
Bloomberg allowed Bernie Sanders to skate through unscathed in his first debate
as the clear front runner.
It did not take long for the knives to come out.
Elizabeth Warren was the third candidate to speak on the
very first question, and the Massachusetts Senator quickly established that her
M.O. for the evening would be to shove a sharp poker up the nose of every rival
on the stage in a last-ditch gambit to resuscitate her campaign.
“So I'd like to talk about who we're
running against, a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced
lesbians.’ And, no, 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 polls
like redlining and stop and frisk. Look, I'll support whoever the Democratic
nominee is. But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just
substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
There was an audible ripple of gasps across the auditorium
as Elizabeth Warren appeared to go for the knockout punch a scant few minutes
into the debate.
Shortly after, the moderator went after Bloomberg on the racial-profiling
law enforcement employed in New York City known as “stop and frisk.” The former
Mayor expressed his repentance and remorse, and expected that his genuflecting supplications
would suffice. Not with Elizabeth Warren, who fileted his language and then ate
“I do think that this really is
about leadership and accountability. When the mayor says that he apologized,
listen very closely to the apology. The language he used is about stop and
frisk. It's about how it turned out. No, this isn't about how it turned out.
This is about what it was designed to do to begin with. It targeted communities
of color. It targeted black and brown men from the beginning. And if you want
to issue a real apology, then the apology has to start with the intent of the
plan as it was put together and the willful ignorance, day by day by day, of
admitting what was happening even as people protested in your own street,
shutting out the sounds of people telling you how your own policy was breaking
their lives. You need a different apology here, Mr. Mayor.”
Only a half hour into the debate, Hallie Jackson of NBC brought
up the topic of misogyny in Bloomberg’s company, and Bloomberg was mercilessly
crushed by Warren. Other candidates, sensing vulnerability, piled on.After Bloomberg attempted to breeze through
the topic by citing positive statistics about his company’s employment of women,
Warren began ripping him to shreds:
“…I hope you heard what his defense was. ‘I've been nice to
some women.’ That just doesn't cut it. The mayor has to stand on his record.
And what we need to know is exactly what's lurking out there. He has gotten
some number of women, dozens, who knows, to sign nondisclosure agreements both
for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace. So, Mr.
Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure
agreements, so we can hear their side of the story?”
Warren pressed relentlessly,
demanding that Bloomberg say the number of nondisclosure agreements.
Bloomberg had a terrible moment as he
struggled to defend himself.
“None of them accuse me of doing anything,
other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told. And let me just -- and let me
-- there's agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and
that's up to them. They signed those agreements, and we'll live with it.”
Warren went in for the kill: “So,
wait, when you say it is up to -- I just want to be clear. Some is how many?
And -- and when you -- and when you say they signed them and they wanted them,
if they wish now to speak out and tell their side of the story about what it is
they allege, that's now OK with you? Is that right, tonight?”
Biden piled on. Warren kept
demanding that Bloomberg release the obligations of the NDA. Staggering under
the assault, Bloomberg held tightly to his shredded defense: “I've said we're not going to get -- to end
these agreements because they were made consensually and they have every right
to expect that they will stay private.”
The audience lustily booed.
Welcome to the NFL, Mayor. Within 45
minutes of his arrival on your first debate stage, Bloomberg was black and blue,
reeling and retreating. The scorching criticism would continue for the entire
evening. In addition to “stop and frisk” and the “me too” issues in his
company, Bloomberg was taken to task for failing to promptly release his taxes,
for his mixed messages on ObamaCare, and for his support of George W. Bush in
It was a very, very tough debut for
Michael Bloomberg, underscoring once again the enormous advantage held by candidates
who have spent the last year in the bruising off-Broadway rehearsals in hamlets
across Iowa and New Hampshire. Bloomberg was not ready for prime time.
The undeniable winner for the evening was Elizabeth Warren,
whose campaign had been on life support after a mediocre showing in Iowa was
followed by an utterly abysmal showing in her backyard in New Hampshire. Warren
had essentially been written off, and, in fact, it is still very hard to see
how she can make the delegate math work. But in a last-ditch effort to reignite her
candidacy, she was an equal-opportunity offender, lashing out with hard-edge
criticisms and insults for every candidate on the stage.
She demeaned Pete Buttigieg as a candidate of a “slogan
that was thought up by consultants.” Turning to Amy Klobuchar, she ridiculed
her healthcare plan as a “Post-It Note.”
But it was her scorched earth annihilation of Michael
Bloomberg on the issue of his company’s treatment of women that earned her the
victory for the night.
Bernie Sanders may have struggled to run a hard-edged
campaign against an endearing Minnesota Mom or a super-smart gay veteran, but
telling him that he must campaign against the seventh wealthiest man in the
world is like handing enriched plutonium to a nuclear engineer.
We’ve been watching Bernie Sanders in over 30 debates
starting in 2016, and there is nothing by way of surprise in his approach. Last
night was no exception. He is intense, angry, passionate, and articulate. He
knows his stuff and makes his points efficiently and emphatically. He was not
shy about confronting Bloomberg, but it was a hyooooge boon to his evening
that he didn’t have to take on Bloomberg single-handedly. For large chunks of
the evening, Bernie stood by and let Warren, Biden and others do the bloody
work of eviscerating an opponent.
In fact, the mantle of front-runner seemed surprisingly
comfortable to Bernie. He is impossible to rattle: he has heard it all. Who
knows? He may be happier to be facing Bloomberg than Biden, because he can
paint Bloomberg as symptomatic of every ill he has be campaigning about for
years. Bernie had a very good night on Wednesday.
Pete Buttigieg faced a particularly thorny problem last
night. By rights, he had fought tooth and nail in Iowa and New Hampshire to
emerge as the voters’ choice to lead the centrist lane in the Democratic Party.
He had won the most delegates in Iowa, and nearly toppled Sanders in Bernie’s
own backyard. And yet he was no doubt shocked to discover he was being
marginalized in the media as not one of the two candidates in a “two person
Pete took it to the two people in the two person race. It happens that one of
the most influential unions in Nevada is the Culinary Workers Union, and they
shoved a sharp one up Bernie’s nose by coming out against Sanders' “Medicare
for All.” But in a slap to Joe Biden, the Union refused to endorse any
candidate in the centrist lane. Pete introduced this issue to the debate, and deriding
Bernie Sanders (and Elizabeth Warren) for being so far out of step with the
needs of union workers on what is arguably the single most important policy
issue in the race.
“This idea that the union members
don't know what's good for them is the exact kind of condescension and
arrogance that makes people skeptical of the policies we've been putting
Pete continues to show an amazing ability to succinctly identify
and tee up a critical issue in a highly memorable way. This is how he took it
to both of the supposed “front-runners” in a concise, elegant turns of phrase.
“Yes, 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… We shouldn't have to choose between one
candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to
buy this party out. We can do better.”
On a stage of righteous indignation, cutting insults, and
raised voices, Pete retained his signature poise, calm demeanor, and steady
optimism. About the only critique to be made of Pete is that he allows himself
to be goaded into a sideshow with Amy Klobuchar, who singles Pete out for snarky
jibes in every debate. Yes, candidates need to defend themselves, but Pete
seems to give Klobuchar oxygen by engaging with her rather than simply rising
In turn, Amy's obsession with Pete Buttigieg is puzzling. Challengers take on the leader... not the person directly in front of them. Amy Klobuchar came into the debate fresh off her startling
“Little Engine That Could” third place finish in New Hampshire, a classic
example of how in primary season “beating expectations” can be as good as a
win. Knowing full well that it was her feisty and emotional debate performance
that triggered her stunning surge in the final hours of New Hampshire, Klobuchar set
out to replicate the formula.
She has perfected her attack on the controversial “Medicare
for All” plans of Sanders and Warren, and it is very effective:
“And the way I look at it, since
we're in Vegas, when it comes to your plan, Elizabeth and Bernie's, on Medicare
for all, you don't put your money on a number that's not even on the wheel. And
why is Medicare for all not on the wheel? Why is it not on the wheel? Because
two-thirds of the Democratic senators are not even on that bill, because a
bunch of the new House members that got elected see the problems with blowing
up the Affordable Care Act. They see it right in front of them. And the truth
is that when you see some troubled waters, you don't blow up a bridge, you
build one. And so we need to improve the Affordable Care Act, not blow it up.”
Amy had a decent night, as she has learned to leaven her attacks
with wit, and she remains the most emotionally warm and appealing candidate on a
stage filled with left-brain policy wonks. But it seemed that she repeatedly came out on the short end of her side-barbs at Pete. At the end of the day, Amy's problem is simple: despite her terrific closing in
New Hampshire, she still hasn’t won anything, and that could well be true even
after every Super Tuesday state votes. Did another good performance last night
change her trajectory that much? It is highly unlikely.
Joe Biden, who arrived at the auditorium last night as a
walking, talking verse in Tom Petty’s “Free Falling,” has been helplessly
watching the hot air gushing out of his balloon, losing altitude daily as he
clings to stay viable until South Carolina. The painful irony is that his
listless showings in Iowa and New Hampshire have already triggered a loss of
enthusiasm in his firewall state.
In the seven debates thus far, Joe Biden has alternated between
two extreme stage personalities. There is feisty, “hi-T” Joe, who strives to
project energy, vigor, and pugilistic bravado, but achieves this by racing pell-mell
past crucial nouns, verbs, and direct objects. On the alternative setting, we
see calm, Presidential Joe, who comes off like a cup of chamomile tea at
bedtime. There has been no Momma Bear in Joe’s debate style.
But give the man his due. Last night – finally – Joe Biden showed
flashes of a commanding presence, and gave his most impressive performance. He, too, enjoyed having a big bullseye in
Bloomberg, whose occasionally contentious relationship with the Obama administration
provided Biden with plenty of fodder. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that
Biden failed to call Bloomberg out on the television ad that seems to imply
that Barack Obama had endorsed Bloomberg.
In that Biden’s recent decline in the polls has reflected
in some measure the entry of Bloomberg, it is likely that Biden could rebound
if Bloomberg’s numbers suffer from his debate performance. The question,
however, if Biden’s showing was too little, too late.
The ninth Democratic debate was a bruising internecine
drama as candidates realized that time was running out to keep their campaigns
viable. They fought hard and no holds were barred.
Michael Bloomberg learned the hard way that the real winner
of last night’s debate was “campaign experience.” Every candidate who has been
at this for months did well.
Only the new guy had a terrible night. He has the money to
persevere, and he is a smart guy. He will do better next time.
But for now, the Bloomberg is off the rose.
how we grade it:
Good but Not Good Enough Klobuchar
than Usual, but Too Little Too Late
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