Early on, political consultant Mike Murphy labeled the debate “a six way tornado of long-repressed rage, fear and desperation.” For Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and maybe even Joe Biden, the end is near. A lot of these candidates, who would be allies under different circumstances, now can barely stand to be on the same stage with one another.
The non-Bloomberg candidates contend that the former mayor is trying to buy the presidency, and they detest him for waltzing in late and rocketing up to top-tier status by throwing around hundreds of millions of dollars in ads. Within the first ten minutes, everyone had thrown a hard metaphorical punch on him and seemed to gang up on him with glee.
Tonight we saw that Mike Bloomberg the presidential candidate is way less impressive than Mike Bloomberg the advertising campaign. He’s regretful and embarrassed by the way stop-and-frisk turned out. His lawsuits and NDAs were just some jokes that went wrong. He promises to release his tax returns in a few weeks, and everyone has to understand because he’s too wealthy to use Turbo Tax.
Warren just tore Bloomberg apart on his former female employees who can’t talk about their disputes with him because of nondisclosure agreements. Bloomberg looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights, utterly unprepared for this, other than to insist that he had many female employees over the years and most of them hadn’t sued him or contended that he created a hostile working environment. Biden got in a good shot: “If people who signed NDA’s want to come forward, just say ‘yes they can.’” When Joe Biden is verbally body-slamming you over treatment of women, you’ve made a critical error.
The desperate candidates brought their A-game tonight. Warren might sense that the end is near and that means she has nothing left to lose. Tonight she was unleashed as a brutally effective critic of her top opponents, particularly Bloomberg. Within the opening moments, she barreled into the Bloomberg–Sanders fight by declaring, “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.” She accused Buttigieg and Klobuchar of “wanting to be liked by Mitch McConnell.” The one person on stage she didn’t attack was Bernie Sanders; perhaps she’s concluded that his supporters are intractable, or perhaps she hopes to be his running mate.
Joe Biden was at his most focused, cogent, and impassioned tonight. It might be too late for him, but at least he’s not withering under the pressure of a lousy start.
Buttigieg was the only challenger who remembered that Sanders is the front-runner and that a wise challenger should be punching up. He got drawn into an awkward series of criticism against Amy Klobuchar for forgetting the name of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Noticias Telemundo correspondent Vanessa Hauc acted as if Klobuchar’s memory lapse was the most consequential scandal of the primary.
Later in the evening, somebody applied the smelling salts to Bloomberg, and he came back with some good shots on Sanders. “I can’t think of a way to make it easier to get Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation. This is ridiculous! We’re not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. It’s called Communism and it doesn’t work.” Sanders said that calling his agenda “Communism” was a cheap shot. Bloomberg also pointed out that the best-known socialist in America, Sanders, is a millionaire who owns three houses. That one seemed to get under the Vermont senator’s skin.
Klobuchar seemed to keep getting entangled in fights with Buttigieg, and the exchanges revealed that she cannot stand him. Her late sarcastic declaration — “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete” — dripped with contempt.
The upshot of this two-hour brawl was that the front-runner, Sanders, didn’t take too much damage. The quickly rising Bloomberg took it on the chin, but he can probably erase most of the damage with another $400 million or so in television ads. Bloomberg isn’t leaving the race any time soon, and Sanders is, at least right now, on track to get to Milwaukee with the most delegates. These two guys really disdain each other, and tonight suggested that the next few months will be an epic slugfest between two septuagenarians who vehemently oppose everything the other man represents.
The gargantuan winner of the night was the Trump campaign. Tonight’s debate shone a bright spotlight on the weaknesses of the candidates most likely to be the nominee, and it provided a ton of fodder for Trump ads in the general election.