With voters in several states currently voting early in their presidential preference primaries, last night’s “debate” in Las Vegas was consequential to voters not just in Nevada but in the “Super Tuesday” states and beyond, including Arizona.
Note: The media needs to cease the pretense of calling these reality TV scripted conflicts for your entertainment shows a debate. The media is abusing the English language and the common understanding of the term by referring to what it is producing as a “debate.” Please, just stop.
“Ladies and gentleman, let’s get ready to rumble!”
From the opening round to the final round of this “fight night” in Las Vegas, I was reminded of an old children’s rhyme (with apologies):
Lizzie Warren took an axe
Gave Mike Bloomberg forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave the others forty-one
Senator Elizabeth Warren came loaded for bear last night with the perfect foil by her side, billionaire former Republican mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg, and she landed the haymakers she needed to land to revive her image among Democratic voters as a fighter for the people. She took some hard swings at her Democratic rivals as well.
The media has been engaging in the erasure of Elizabeth Warren from this Democratic primary, but last night like Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction, she declared “I will not be ignored!”
The only thing missing from last night’s fight was Howard Cosell making the ringside call: “Down goes
Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen captures last night perfectly. Fight night in Las Vegas:
On Wednesday evening, the Wikipedia page of Michael Bloomberg was updated to state that he had “died” on February 19, 2020, at the hands of Senator Elizabeth Warren.
I’m hard pressed to think of a more fitting, albeit hyperbolic, description of what happened at the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas.
The first words out of Warren’s mouth landed like an uppercut to the jaw of the former New York City mayor. “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” said Warren. “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.”
Bloomberg then proceeded to take body blow after body blow — and he couldn’t get his gloves up to defend himself.
Everyone knew Bloomberg would be asked about his support for the stop-and-frisk policy that targeted communities of color while he was mayor of New York City. Everyone except, it seemed, Bloomberg, who had no good answer when asked about it. Later, under withering criticism from Warren for his refusal to release the non-disclosure agreements from women who sued his company, his response included this bon mot, “none of [the women] accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”
If it was a sexist joke … that’s the problem.
Former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont got their licks in too, but Bloomberg was often his own worst enemy. He came across as arrogant, condescending, unprepared, and out-of-touch with the party he is seeking to lead. By the time the debate ended, his carcass had practically been picked clean.
Bloomberg’s poor showing seems likely to stall his momentum. But he’s not on the ballot in Nevada, so who will immediately benefit?
With the exception of Klobuchar, one could make the case that all the candidates will. They did what they needed to do.
Warren had a fantastic debate. She repeatedly showed her effectiveness at delivering a political attack as well as her vast policy chops. She didn’t attack only Bloomberg — she hit everyone. Even Sanders got a glancing blow from her. That could rub some voters the wrong way, but if they were looking for a fighter, she delivered. If her Hail Mary effort doesn’t restart her campaign, nothing will.
Biden had a surprisingly good night. He still gets tongue-tied and confuses shouting with passion, but he wasn’t afraid to mix it up, particularly with Bloomberg, whom he went after with apparent glee. It was an energetic performance that seems likely to reassure his supporters he is still alive in this race. If Bloomberg takes a hit from Wednesday, it stands to reason that Biden could benefit — since much of the former’s rise has come from the latter. In Nevada, if moderate Democrats are looking to stop Sanders’ momentum — and Bloomberg no longer looks like such a great option — Biden could reap the whirlwind.
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar were Wednesday night’s undercard fight. These two are fighting for moderate Democratic voters so it’s not surprising that they tangled. But the venom between them was remarkable.
The most revealing moment came late in the debate when Buttigieg hit Klobuchar for voting to confirm Kevin McAleenan, the former US Customs and Border Protection commissioner, as well as her support for legislation to make English the national language. It was a smarmy attack, but Klobuchar responded with high dudgeon. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” she said. You’ve “not been in the arena doing that work. You’ve memorized a bunch of talking points and a bunch of things.”
At that moment, every story from former staffers about her rage rang true. Klobuchar was flustered, and she lashed out in a way that clearly reflected the deep animus she feels toward the political upstart. It spoke volumes about the deep well of anger and resentment that resides under Klobuchar’s well-constructed facade of “Minnesota nice.”
It also demonstrated her political inadequacies. Buttigieg came prepared to get under Klobuchar’s skin. He clearly wanted to get a reaction out of her and it worked. Disciplined politicians don’t get so easily thrown off their game, but Klobuchar did. And Buttigieg stands to benefit if her response rubbed Nevada voters the wrong way.
Finally, a word on Sanders. Arguably, he had the best night of anyone. The other candidates were so busy attacking Bloomberg, they forgot to lay a punch on the nominal front-runner.
In fact, every time Buttigieg attacked him (and he was the only candidate who consistently did), Sanders interrupted and talked over him. While it neutralized Mayor Pete’s criticisms, to my ear, Sanders came across as arrogant and condescending. It wasn’t a great look, but then again he usually comes across as arrogant and condescending, and it never seems to hurt him with his core supporters. I doubt last night was any different.
It wasn’t a great debate performance for Sanders, but it didn’t need to be. He was on top of the polls going in, and he’s likely still in first place as the smoke has cleared. If you’re the front-runner, that’s a pretty good outcome.
As long as there are multiple candidates who remain in the race to divide up the vote, Senator Bernie Sanders stands to win primaries with a minority of the Democratic vote, compared to the combined total vote for his opponents. Is this a good thing? Probably not. It’s hard to claim a mandate for your candidacy with a minority of the vote. But this will likely be true for all of the candidates running this year.
Has Mike Bloomberg suffered a fatal knockout in his first debate performance? Probably not, considering he can spend billions of dollars to saturate the airwaves with advertising presenting an alternate reality (one would think he was Barack Obama’s vice president from his recent ads) and social media memes. Bloomberg’s immense spending gets him 30,000 online ads a minute, and a whole lot more.
Can a billionaire Republican hijack the Democratic Party nomination, the way that fake billionaire (and former Democrat) Donald Trump hijacked the Republican Party nomination in 2016? We are about to find out.
The most telling question came at the very end of the debate, when the candidates were asked the hypothetical question, “if no candidate has a majority of delegates going into the convention, should the candidate with the most delegates be deemed the nominee?” to prevent a brokered convention (there has not been a brokered convention since 1952). Every candidate, save one, answered “no, let the process play out” at the convention, i.e., a brokered convention with multiple ballots.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who at the moment stands to have the most delegates going into the convention, answered in the affirmative, because he stands to benefit. It is a hypocritical reversal of his position in 2016, however, when Hillary Clinton had the most delegates going into the convention. Bernie Sanders pushed for a contested convention in 2016. Now he wants to avoid one.
A lot can happen over the next few weeks. I suspect that this primary race is still fluid with a number of different result scenarios occurring across the “Super Tuesday” primaries with no clear favorite emerging. No one can say for certain. We shall have to wait and see.
UPDATE: Daily Kos reports that Senator Elizabeth Warren followed up her debate performance on Thursday by taking out a full-page ad in the The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Las Vegas, which GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson purchased in 2016:
In the ad, Elizabeth Warren made the case for her wealth tax, noting Adelson would have to pay $2.3 billion in taxes in the first year alone. Warren’s ad further notes how this money would be reinvested to help everyday Americans by canceling student loan debt, investing in childcare to help working parents, and much more.
Nevada reporter Jon Ralston, who was a panelist in Wednesday night’s debate, noted Warren’s “chutzpah” for taking aim at Adelson in his own hometown and in the pages of his own newspaper.