Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg got a taste of front-runner status on Wednesday night, getting absolutely walloped by his primary opponents during the ninth Democratic debate in Nevada.
Bloomberg, who was not on the ballot in the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary, has been surging in the polls thanks to massive ad buys and a social media-oriented campaign. However, his absence from debates has allowed him to avoid scrutiny for the issues raised by massive opposition research dumps.
Bloomberg took a gamble by appearing at Wednesday’s debate — presumably he assumed he had the political experience to put up a good performance. Instead, he was hammered repeatedly over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, his ‘stop and frisk’ policies in New York City, his status as a billionaire, and his previous Republican membership. The mayor appeared defensive and unprepared to answer to any of these attacks — the type of thing that can sink a candidacy, if Sen Kamala Harris’s campaign post-Tulsi Gabbard whacking her for her prosecutorial history is any indicator.
Sen. Bernie Sanders — arguably the true front-runner, given his victory in New Hampshire and national polling averages — spent a lot of time on the defensive, but the bitter and personal attacks against Bloomberg made the mayor the star of the show.
The stock market doesn’t reopen until morning — but it’s safe to say Bloomberg is now publicly owned by Elizabeth Warren. Within just ten minutes, Warren unloaded on Bloomberg over the dozens of allegations that he behaved inappropriately toward women in the workplace.
‘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,’ Warren said to gasps from the audience. Voters may have read about some of Bloomberg’s alleged comments in the papers, but it’s a different animal to hear them spoken out loud, much like Trump’s Access Hollywood tape. Bloomberg opted not to apologise for some of the comments he made to women, instead downplaying many of them as ‘jokes’.
Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden later joined forces to demand Bloomberg release women from non-disclosure agreements, which he refused to do because they were ‘consensual’ — which is probably not the best word to use during a conversation about #MeToo and sexual harassment.
‘I hope you heard his defence: “I’ve been nice to some women”,’ Warren said in response.
The candidates also addressed one of the first major pieces of oppo on Bloomberg during his campaign: resurfaced comments about ‘stop and frisk’ in New York, where Bloomberg suggested officials could ‘Xerox’ descriptions of criminals to police officers because ‘95 percent’ of murderers and murder victims are young, male minorities. He also suggested ‘throwing’ black men ‘against the wall’.
Bloomberg apologised for the policy getting ‘out of hand’, but was admonished by Warren and Biden for having implementing it in the first place, alleging it was at its core a racist violation of civil rights. And in his defence, Bloomberg told an untruth — he claimed that oversaw a 95 percent reduction in ‘stop and frisk,’ but failed to mention that the use of ‘stop and frisk’ initially spiked 605 percent at the beginning of his mayorship and that the policy was curbed due to fears a judge would rule against it.
The half-baked defences continued throughout the night: when asked to release his tax returns, the billionaire snarked that he cannot just use ‘TurboTax’, a line not likely to sit well with middle Americans or people who are already skeptical of a billionaire’s presence in the race. He then attempted to blame Sanders for the nation’s current tax code, which rests on a bizarre suggestion that Sanders’s presence in Congress alone means he bears responsibility for every bill that is passed there. When Bloomberg claimed he was a ‘fan’ of Obamacare, Biden immediately responded that the mayor actually called it a ‘disgrace’ when it was first implemented. Sanders further highlighted Bloomberg’s past as a Republican and his support for George W. Bush, something Bloomberg failed to ever really explain on stage.
In fact, the mayor’s only sign of life on stage was when he went after Sanders for being a socialist while owning ‘three houses’, a line that would probably work in a general election but curries little favour with the strong progressive base backing Sanders.
Poor Bloomberg couldn’t even catch a break outside of the debate. Trump, who held a duelling rally in Phoenix, Arizona, knocked ‘Mini Mike’ again for his height, accused him of wasting his own money to run for president, and even referenced his horrible debate performance.
‘I hear he’s getting pounded tonight. I hear they’re pounding him,’ Trump told his crowd. ‘I think he spent all this money, he has maybe 15 points. Hey, fake news, how many points does he have? They won’t tell you the truth.’
The Bloomberg campaign even seemed to acknowledge their wasn’t quite up to snuff in a post-debate statement, admitting that it took him ‘45 minutes’ to ‘get his legs on the stage,’ which is not a good sign for a debate that lasted just two hours.
The decision for Bloomberg to get on the stage at all demonstrated a severe case of hubris, and the resulting performance showed how quickly a campaign can implode when it hasn’t thought far beyond just throwing money into the arena. Hubris may have worked for Trump in 2016, but only because when he was hit by his Republican opponents, he unapologetically hit back ten times harder. Instead of coming off like a fighter, Bloomberg left looking more like someone fighting for his life.