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Yes, Bloomberg’s Debate Performance Was Bad, But It Wasn’t Catastrophic


It seems former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s debate debut Wednesday night couldn’t have gone worse for the New York billionaire. While fighting off a series of unearthed revelations plaguing his campaign in the run-up to the Las Vegas event, Bloomberg’s dark past came in full view as rival Democratic candidates took shots at the businessman in primetime.

“I’d like to talk more about who we’re running against,” blasted off Sen. Elizabeth Warren while standing right next to Bloomberg on stage. “A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

That wasn’t even the worst of it. Later in the night, Warren hammered away at Bloomberg for not releasing women from non-disclosure agreements alleging the New York executive of a hostile work environment.

“What we need to know is exactly what’s luring out there,” Warren said. “He has gotten some number of women, dozens, who knows, to sign non-disclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the work place.”

“So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those non-disclosure agreements so we can hear their side of the story?”

Bloomberg’s cold response didn’t help.

“Maybe they didn’t like the joke I told,” Bloomberg said noting the agreements were consensual. “We’ll live with it.”

It was a sour night for Bloomberg, who, since entering the race late, has dumped nearly half a billion into his presidential effort. According to a Federal Elections Commisssion filing released Thursday, Bloomberg has sunk $464 million into his campaign and that’s excluding what he has spent in February. With 786 seconds of speaking time, Bloomberg spent $590,330.78 per minute to speak on stage.

Until now, Bloomberg had been able to avoid the reputation-destroying criticism that comes with mounting a competitive presidential bid, as other presidential rivals sparred with each other throughout Iowa and New Hampshire. When the focus of the race turned to Super Tuesday states, however, the candidates were forced to confront Bloomberg and his massive operation running on virtually unlimited resources. His first appearance on stage Wednesday night was a ripe opportunity to blow up the Bloomberg boom.

While Warren hit Bloomberg on past derogatory comments towards women, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders condemned the former mayor’s championing of stop and frisk in New York, and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg reminded the audience that Bloomberg was once a Republican. Nearly all the candidates took shots at Bloomberg’s wealth. He boasts a Forbes-estimated net worth of $65.2 billion.

But Wednesday night was no doomsday for Bloomberg’s campaign. Candidates survive poor debate performances all of the time, and Bloomberg still left the stage having scored some points of his own.

Just last summer, for example, former Vice President Joe Biden raised questions over whether he would be able to maintain his frontrunner status in the race after appearing frail and forgetful while California Sen. Kamala Harris lit into Biden on race in a primary debate. Yet Biden still remained the leader until last month.

Other candidates have also suffered poor performances, whether they simply faded into the background or struggled to handle the heat on stage. This can cost candidates vital resources to continue mounting a competitive campaign, much like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’ famous “oops” moment in 2011 and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio getting caught repeating talking points by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Last fall, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also issued a blistering takedown of Harris on stage that helped sink the latter’s campaign, going after the former California attorney general’s record on criminal justice blowing up the state’s prison population.

By self-funding his operation, however, Bloomberg doesn’t need to worry about a poor debate performance costing the backing of donors. Instead, Bloomberg can dump another half billion dollars into the race to counter the narrative.

Bloomberg also didn’t leave the stage without landing some punches, casting Sanders as a hypocrite socialist who owns three homes while deriding the far-left senators’ programs as perpetuating “communism.”

“What a wonderful country we have,” Bloomberg said. “The best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.”

When asked whether he could get behind Sanders’s proposals, Bloomberg charged Sanders with being a communist paving the way for President Donald Trump to win four more years in the White House.

“I can’t think of a ways that we make it easier for Donald Trump to get re-elected than to listen to this conversation. This is ridiculous,” Bloomberg said. “We’re not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism, and it just didn’t work.”

While Bloomberg conceded an overall defeat, Bloomberg framed the loss with the central theme of the businessman’s campaign and consistent with one of the candidate’s few highlights Wednesday: that Trump is getting stronger with each day that the Democrats continue to consider far-left candidates to take on the president in November who will not appeal to general voters.

“The real winner of the debate last night was Donald Trump,” Bloomberg said in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday. “I worry we may well be on the way to nominating somebody who cannot win in November, and if we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base like Senator Sanders, it will be a fatal error.”

Bloomberg also has the advantage of a news cycle poised to turn the focus away from Wednesday night quickly because Nevada holds its caucuses on Saturday. Whereas Biden suffered from an entire month of bad press from a poor debate performance last summer, Bloomberg only has to deal with three days of it until campaign coverage moves to deciphering the results of the Nevada caucuses.

Since Bloomberg isn’t even competing there, he also doesn’t have to worry about underperforming. Although Sanders will likely leave Nevada with the ensuing momentum that comes with carrying the first three contest states, Bloomberg will not suffer the same consequences of not having emerged from the western caucus with any delegates as other candidates might.

To Bloomberg’s added benefit, another debate is scheduled to take place in South Carolina less than a week after his debate debut in Las Vegas, giving the billionaire an opportunity to properly prepare for redemption on the primetime stage. Wednesday night might have been brutal for Bloomberg, but it was hardly the end of a well-oiled campaign.