Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg wilted under a barrage of withering criticism from his much taller Democratic rivals during his first appearance at a primary debate.
"Mini Mike," as the billionaire candidate is sometimes called, was attacked 10 times in the first 10 minutes of Wednesday's debate in Nevada. The gloves finally came off in what was by far the most exhilarating contest of the 2020 election cycle. "It was the Roman Coliseum, it was boxing in the 1950s," said MSNBC's Chris Matthews following the debate. "[Bloomberg] had no way to stop it."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) came out swinging the hardest, slamming Bloomberg over his history of degrading remarks about women. She compared him unfavorably to President Donald J. Trump, urging Democrats not to "substitute one arrogant billionaire for another." Later in the debate, she humiliated the former mayor over his treatment of female subordinates and the nondisclosure agreements signed by numerous former Bloomberg employees.
"Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure agreements, so we can hear their side of the story?" asked Warren, prompting an awkward and uninspiring response. Bloomberg suggested his female employees had only complained "because they didn't like a joke I told" and refused to release them from the NDAs because "they signed those agreements, and we'll live with it."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), the presumptive frontrunner, also lashed out at Bloomberg on a variety of issues. Sanders slammed the former mayor's "outrageous" law-enforcement policies, which "went after African-American and Latino people." He even went after Bloomberg's personal fortune (approx. $64 billion), calling it a "grotesque and immoral" concentration of wealth.
Bloomberg continued to struggle when former vice president Joe Biden attacked his lack of support for Obamacare. The former mayor claimed, unconvincingly, to be a "fan" of the health care law he once derided as "a disgrace." Biden also criticized Bloomberg's controversial policing policies and noted the Obama administration's opposition to them. Biden had previously criticized Bloomberg for campaign ads implying that former president Barack Obama had endorsed his candidacy.
Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of Indiana's fourth-largest city who presumably didn't shave to appear older, also participated in the debate. He joined the anti-Bloomberg pile-on while simultaneously taking shots at Sanders. "Let's put forward somebody who is actually a Democrat," said Buttigieg, referring to Sanders and Bloomberg's affiliation as Independents while in public office.
Democrats, warned Buttigieg via well-rehearsed wordplay, shouldn't put forward a candidate "who wants to burn this party down" (Sanders), or one "who wants to buy this party out" (Bloomberg). The nice young man also had harsh words for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), questioning her command of the issues in light of her recent inability to name the president of Mexico in an interview.
The debate played out largely as expected, which only made Bloomberg's weakness and apparent lack of preparation all the more befuddling. Supporters of his candidacy are unlikely to feel more confident after the bloodbath in Nevada. In fact, Bloomberg's presence on stage likely ended up helping the one candidate he is explicitly trying to defeat—Bernie Sanders—by attracting criticism that might otherwise have been aimed at the leading candidate in the race.
For what it's worth, an extensive Washington Free Beacon investigation was unable to determine with confidence whether the historically diminutive mayor was standing on a box.
Nevada will hold its Democratic caucus on Saturday before the race heads to South Carolina the following week.