Thank you, Mike Bloomberg, for rescuing the debate – POLITICO, Politico

Thank you, Mike Bloomberg, for rescuing the debate – POLITICO, Politico





        Democratic presidential candidates Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. | John Locher / AP Photo




Michael Bloomberg may have bought his way on to the debate stage in Las Vegas Wednesday night but the rest of us are in his debt.

These once-every-couple-weeks rituals had become so familiar that watching til the end was a chore. Anyone interested in the future of the Democratic Party had no trouble sticking through all two hours of this latest one. It was raucous and sometimes rude — also substantive and relevant to the choice Democrats are in the midst of making. At a minimum, it was free of artifice.


The former New York mayor’s presence — on the stage, and in polls which have shown him steadily rising thanks to a historic flood of self-financed advertising — seemed to pluck chords of visceral resentment and disdain from rivals that can’t be feigned.











He responded with a decidedly uneven performance that unintentionally highlighted a disingenuous claim of his campaign strategists. This is that Bloomberg is taking an unorthodox skip-the-early-states approach to the nomination because he initially assumed former Vice President Joe Biden would carry the torch for Democrats, then decided to jump in late when he realized Biden was not strong enough to win.











Nothing in Bloomberg’s wobbly debut suggested that an orthodox, mix-it-up-with-average-voters campaign in early, small states ever could have worked. His big-spending, glide-over-the-early-BS approach is the only one that likely could work for him.

Not surprisingly, this galls competitors. In particular, Bloomberg’s arrival — as well as the imminence of Super Tuesday on March 3 and its outsized consequences — seemed to summon something extra from former front-runner Elizabeth Warren. It was as if she said to herself, I am either going to come back strong or go down swinging with arguments that I genuinely believe.

Her performance was crisp and articulate, aggressive, often cutting, not just toward Bloomberg but at different junctures to every other rival.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the person who is leading in polls for this week’s Nevada caucus, as well as some national polls, was only sometimes at the center of the evening’s drama. This was likely fine with him. He made familiar arguments in a familiar style, and nothing seemed likely to change the dynamic going into the evening: The Democratic contest likely has room for Sanders and one principal competitor, and the sprint now is to see who that competitor will be.

There was an arresting moment when Sanders bristled at Bloomberg’s assertion that Sanders ’policies have already been tried and found wanting:“ It was called communism and it just didn’t work. ” Sanders said, “That’s a cheap shot,” and said what he stands for is democratic socialism, not communism.

The primary attraction for the debate, hosted by NBC News, was a chance for people to see Bloomberg naked — no longer on TV commercials, dressed in the heroic garb of tycoon-turned-Cincinnatus ready to lay Down his financial data terminal and pick up his sword against President Donald Trump.

By conventional political standards, the exposure was highly unflattering. He was put sharply on the defensive by those who said his recent apologies for his trademark “stop and frisk” policy as New York mayor came too late and glided over the true damage from their racially discriminatory impact. They scoffed at his refusal to say he would release women who worked at his media company from nondisclosure agreements they signed when settling sexual harassment and employment discrimination lawsuits against the firm. Bloomberg said the full records would show he personally had done nothing wrong “other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”

On purely stylistic grounds, he was sometimes clear and precise — especially when speaking of his efforts to rally the country to combat climate change — but other times wandering and even inarticulate. He was prideful in ways not calculated to impress populist-minded Democrats (“Yes, I worked very hard for it,” when asked if it is fair that anyone has as many billions as he does). He was evasive on how long it will take until he releases his income taxes, a universal precedent in presidential politics until Trump broke it four years ago. (“Fortunately I make a lot of money… .I can’t go to TurboTax.”) When challenged, he was dismissive in ways that, rather than projecting confidence, underscored defensiveness. In a clip that has gone viral, he was captured rolling his eyes at Warren when she was railing against his treatment of women.











If the old rules of politics still applied, we could be confident in saying Bloomberg stunk the joint up. But we have abundant evidence that the old rules often don’t apply. On CNN afterward, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe noted that many millions more people have seen Bloomberg’s ads — paid for with a campaign budget that so far has spent close to $ 728 million — than will watch the debate, or perhaps even follow coverage of it.

It was not just Warren who brought her fighting game. Biden and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — both, like her, surely sensing that they have only a couple weeks to ensure the continued viability of their campaigns — came at Bloomberg hard on whether his business views and massive fortune leave it possible for him to rally Democrats or connect with average Americans.

The one person who seemed to wilt on stage was Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who scored third in New Hampshire on the strength of a good debate there. She seemed thrown off her game by this week’s controversy over her inability to name the president of Mexico. She called that “momentary forgetfulness,” and Warren came to her rescue by saying the same could happen to any of the candidates. Klobuchar’s acute irritation over Buttigieg’s needling seemed every bit as sincere as Warren’s and Sanders ’toward Bloomberg, but she didn’t channel the anger into a crisp case for her candidacy.

The last question of the evening, from NBC’s Chuck Todd, showed that a classic journalistic fantasy — a nomination battle that goes all the way to the convention floor — may be more realistic this time. At a minimum, the candidates themselves had ready answers as to whether party rules allowing for brokering and delegate-deals after the first ballot should be allowed, or whether candidates should agree now that whoever arrives in Milwaukee this summer in the lead should get the nomination by acclimation.

Every candidate but Sanders said they welcomed a brokered convention under party rules, while Sanders said the nomination should go by default to whoever has “the most votes” from this winter’s and spring’s primaries and caucuses.

For his part, Buttigieg made explicit reference to the ticking clock.

“We’ve got to wake up as a party,” Buttigieg implored. “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. ”     







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