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Michael Bloomberg may be smart, rich and powerful, but he was no match for the tongue of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who tore a hole in the former New York mayor’s presidential hopes Wednesday night the size of Brooklyn.
For all the millions Bloomberg has poured into his campaign, he was notably ill-prepared for the onslaught unleashed on him by the woman standing next to him on stage at the Democratic debate. Warren ripped into his stop-and-frisk policing policies as mayor, his remarks about women, the size of his fortune and his treatment of minorities with a violence that was mesmerizing to watch.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” she said, “a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians, and no I’m no talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
She attacked him over accusations of harassment by women who worked for him, laying waste to his suggestion that they “maybe didn’t like the joke I told.” She dared him to release his accusers from non-disclosure agreements they’d signed so they could tell their stories and demanded to know just how many there’d been, leaving him croaking a weak response about respect for privacy. When he indicated both his company and his mayoralty had employed women in top positions, her reply dripped with acid: “I hope you heard what his defence was. I’ve been nice to some women.”
Encouraged by the damage Warren was doing, former vice-president Joe Biden jumped in for a few licks at the man who had joined the race mainly because he didn’t think Biden could win, and thereby helped knock the bottom out of his front-runner status. Just say yes, Biden taunted him, just let the women tell their story. Bloomberg had no comeback. Despite the fact pundits and TV panelists had spent days talking up the assault he was certain to face, Bloomberg looked wholly unprepared, sputtering replies that showed all the rust of a man who’s been out of elected office for seven years and clearly isn’t accustomed to being so vigorously challenged.
It might have made great TV, but could only have left Republicans delighted to see their opponents so effectively tearing each other to shreds
If Bloomberg was left wondering why he’d spent half a billion dollars of his fortune for the chance to be sliced and diced before an audience of millions, he was not the only one to see his reputation eviscerated. It had to hurt the campaign that has been gaining ground so steadily in recent weeks. Bloomberg’s strength was the hope a fellow billionaire could easily deal with Donald Trump, but if he can’t handle Elizabeth Warren, how can he hope to handle Trump?
He wasn’t alone in seeing his stature diminished, however. None of the six Democrats got out of the night in one piece. With the nomination race tightening in the days before an onslaught of key primaries, they did such a good job of shredding one another you couldn’t help but wonder when someone would remind them the goal was to defeat the Republicans, not tear Democratic reputations to shreds.
Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg went at one another all night. The Minnesota senator appeared to be having another good outing until questioned about a recent interview in which she couldn’t remember the name of Mexico’s president. It was at the kind of gotcha question that sounds important but doesn’t mean a lot, and a person of Klobuchar’s experience should have handled it easily, but her attempt to jolly her way out of it fell flat and the moment turned ugly when Buttigieg started rubbing it in, poking at the fact she’d based much of her credibility on the depth of her experience.
Klobuchar, noticeably rattled, bristled at his remarks. “Are you trying to say that I am dumb? Are you mocking me here, Pete?” During a later exchange she fired at him again. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you Pete,” she snapped at one point, eventually beetling off the stage at the end of the night without shaking his hand.
It might have made great TV, but could only have left Republicans delighted to see their opponents so effectively tearing each other to shreds. Buttigieg, whose imperturbability makes you wonder why he never managed to rise above mayor of a small city, skewered Sanders on the notable nastiness of his followers’ online assaults on opponents, noting “At a certain point, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Why did this pattern arise?’ Why is it especially the case among your supporters?” Bloomberg got in a few shots at the perceived frontrunner as well, wondering why the great socialist warrior needed to own three homes while railing against inequality.
One thing everyone except Bloomberg agreed on was the utter inadmissibility of of being rich. In the Democrat lexicon, “billionaire” clearly equates with “greedy evil demon.” As the only billionaire on the stage, Bloomberg was the default target for a major pile-on, as if he’d personally invented homelessness. As the others competed to top one another in their contempt for wealth and devotion to taxes, Bloomberg observed that “I can’t think of an easier way for Donald Trump to get elected than listening to this conversation.” One of the five moderators later noted that Bloomberg had contributed heavily to Democrat causes in the past — most recently spending $41 million on 24 House races — and asked why the party was fine with his wealth then but was damning him for it now.
In their closing remarks the contestants finally remembered they were supposed to be running against Donald Trump, not doing their best to aid his campaign. Maybe it wasn’t too late, but it was hard not to conclude they left the stage more bruised and battered than when they’d arrived.
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