‘Bloomberg brought a wallet to a knife fight” was one wag’s view on Twitter. Mayor Mike was starting to gain traction in the Democratic Party he rejoined only in 2018 after many years as a Republican and an independent, but then he spun out. A monster truck named Elizabeth Warren rammed him off the road. Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders raced to the wreck to spray firehoses of kerosene on the wreck.
The Democratic presidential primary has been going on for over a year. It may effectively be over in less than a month because things have worked out miraculously for Bernie Sanders. True, Joe Biden’s campaign is still alive, but the presence of Mike Bloomberg as a viable option is dividing the non-radical portion of the Democratic Party. Moreover, Elizabeth Warren (a self-described capitalist, but then again O. J. Simpson claimed he loved his wife) was so fiercely engaged, denounced Bloomberg with such prosecutorial detail, that she probably stole back some of the technocratic, college-educated Bloom-curious voters and incidentally probably ended the Amy Klobuchar boomlet at the same time.
But Warren did nothing to damage Sanders, and like most of the candidates on stage, except Bloomberg, she seemed perfectly happy to let Sanders present his points without much contesting them. Instead, it was Knives Out for the wee old mayor, with even the wee young mayor doing him significant damage. Sandersistas must have been agape to observe that, for once, the system seemed rigged in their favor: Following the Ambush in the Desert, Warren was sure to tick up in support, Biden and Buttigieg fans had reason enough to keep their candidates going, and Bloomberg practically evaporated. Appearing live and in person in a major Democratic event for the first time, Bloomberg made his $400 million TV-commercial image of cool competency look like a scam — Potemkin Mike.
Uncle Joe Biden came across as a bit more composed and focused than he usually does, but he again confused speaking loudly and pointing accusingly with being convincing. A typical wayward answer was this beauty: “I’m the only person on this stage that’s beaten Mitch McConnell on four major, major cases. Let me finish. Mitch McConnell — I’ve been the object of his affection and the president’s affection the way he’s gone after me in this new Republican Party, after me, after my son, after my family. I don’t need to be told I’m a friend of Mitch McConnell’s. Mitch McConnell has been the biggest pain in my neck in a long, long time.” Okay, pre-Boomer. When a moderator beat up on Amy Klobuchar for what seemed like a month for being unable to recall the name of the president of Mexico in an interview, Biden jumped in to remind us that he had a longer record than anybody of forgetting the names of Mexican presidents. “I’ve spent hundreds of hours in Latin America. I met with this president. I’ve met with the last president, the one before that,” he said, before pivoting to a boast about all the aid money he’d help send south of the border, which as we all know arrested the flow of migrants to this country and solved the border problem.
Bloomberg took so much incoming it was a marvel: What precision micro-technology it must have taken to locate such a tiny target! Warren hit him in the chops for making sexist comments on women and for holding women who sued his company to their non-disclosure agreements. She lambasted him for his racially tinged stop-and-frisk policies as mayor of New York City, which he championed as recently as last year. Sanders blasted Bloomberg for endorsing George W. Bush in 2004, and for opposing minimum-wage hikes, and for calling for cuts in Social Security. Biden knocked Bloomberg for calling Obamacare “a disgrace.” Buttigieg clipped Bloomberg and Sanders simultaneously by saying, “Let’s put forward someone who’s actually a Democrat. . . . Look, . . . 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.”
Still, that was Buttigieg’s best moment, and when he nagged Klobuchar for voting to confirm judges and other executive-branch appointees, as nearly every senator does regularly, she looked like she was ready to issue a summary cosmic wedgie in response, as indeed everyone watching the lord of all hall monitors was hoping she would. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” Klobuchar said, in a riposte that lacked substance but made up for it in emotional IQ. Buttigieg has said his idea of a military hero is John Kerry, the guy who threw away his medals in disgust after suggesting the U.S. military was no better than the Viet Cong, and he also seems to have been the guy who watched Leave It to Beaver thinking Eddie Haskell was the hero.
Sanders came away as spry as a congenitally angry near-octogenarian scold could possibly be. Nobody hurt him. Does anyone seriously think the senator is to blame because his online minions can be rude? Is that the best anyone can do against him? No one even really laid into him for announcing this week that he would never release his medical records, though he is a 78-year-old man who has suffered a heart attack. Bloomberg, and Bloomberg only, pointed out the most glaring problem with Bernie, which is that America is a capitalist country that doesn’t want a socialist president, which is why Trump presumably wants to run against him. “I can’t think of a way to make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation,” Bloomberg said, in a “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy” moment. “This is ridiculous. We’re not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It’s called Communism, and it just didn’t work.” Sanders groused that the reference to Communism was a “cheap shot,” and was lucky Bloomberg didn’t reply by holding up a photo of Sanders on his honeymoon in the Soviet Union.
Bloomberg’s other fine moment was when he noted, in his preferred tone of arrogant sarcasm familiar to New Yorkers, “What a wonderful country we have. The best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” That Bloomberg — confident, funny, withering— might have a chance against Sanders. But the Bloomberg we saw last night — stiff, defensive, hesitant — does not. Bloomberg finally got himself invited to the Democratic banquet, but alas for him, he was the main course.