Well it’s about time.
It took, evidently, Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage for Democrats to realize that this primary can’t be a group effort and a love fest forever. There can only be one winner. To be that final candidate, they needed to take each other on, and not coyly or with flattering reassurances. To win they needed to point out their differences on record, policy, personality and values and they needed to do it decisively.
From Elizabeth Warren taking on allegations that Bloomberg made awful comments about women (he generally denies this), to Pete Buttigieg taking on Bernie Sanders’ war on capitalism, to Sanders returning fire on Pete’s donors, this is what needed to happen for this field to finally consolidate and give Democratic voters a clear frontrunner.
We’ll see ultimately who benefits the most from the knives out night. But one thing is certain: this was long overdue.
David Axelrod: Bloomberg’s disastrous debut
But, eventually, they had to roll out the product — and when the big night came, it was a disastrous debut.
Prodded by the moderators, virtually everyone on the stage in Wednesday’s debate took turns pounding on the billionaire and former mayor of New York. And the attacks ranged from challenges to his stop-and-frisk policies, to allegations of abusive behavior toward women in his workplace, to his cleaving in his ads to former President Barack Obama — with whom he wasn’t always close or supportive — to his past Republicanism and to general sniping about his vast wealth.
“Let’s put forth someone who is actually a Democrat,” chimed in former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Warren and Buttigieg were the night’s big winners. Desperately in need of a revival, former Vice President Joe Biden found new energy, vigorously assaulting Bloomberg and frontrunner Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The New Hampshire debate champ, Amy Klobuchar, was knocked off stride early by Buttigieg and never regained her footing.
But the big loser was Bloomberg.
He was by turns peevish and defensive, complete with eye-rolling and derisive smirks. It was a lost night for the candidate who has been laying claim to be the only moderate who can defeat Sanders and topple Trump.
Bloomberg can survive this because he is speaking to more people every day through his ads than will have watched this debate. But it is only going to get harder and he is going to have to do much better in next week’s South Carolina debate — and beyond — to ride the wave of his prodigious investment.
Errol Louis: Warren lives to fight another day
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren won the debate by going aggressively after the other candidates on the stage, including a sudden, unsolicited critique of the health care plans of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
She notably drew former Mayor Mike Bloomberg into a devastating cross-examination about non-disclosure agreements signed by former employees of Bloomberg’s financial information company, warning against “the drip, drip, drip of women saying they have been harassed.”
Warren had no choice but to take the fight to her rivals. She finished third in Iowa, despite meticulous preparation and what was described as the best field operation in the state. Days later, she placed fourth in New Hampshire, the latter an especially poor performance given the fact that southern New Hampshire shares a media market with Warren’s home state of Massachusetts.
The entrance of Bloomberg makes things even more difficult for Warren. Sanders appears to be attracting young people and left-leaning older activists, while mainstream candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden have a base of support among moderate voters. That leaves Warren without a natural base.
With the real prospect of elimination looming, Warren had to pound the other Democrats to shake loose some of their support and save her campaign. Warren called for environmental cleanup in communities of color, a strategy aimed squarely at shoring up support from the base of the party.
And after her performance, she lives to fight another day.
Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel.
Patti Solis Doyle: Bloomberg needs to learn how to be a candidate
This was Michael Bloomberg’s first debate on the national stage, and it showed. He disappeared for the first 30 minutes, and when the time finally came for him to answer questions on the stop and frisk policing policy during his tenure as New York mayor, and allegations of sexism at his workplace, he was wildly insufficient. He was not relatable or empathetic. At times, he sounded insensitive and offensive.
He improved vastly on more comfortable ground, such as climate change. But it was clear that the rest of the field has had much more experience in actual campaigning and debating. The question for the Bloomberg team: what to do now? Bloomberg needs to get out on the trail in an aggressive way; do every interview he can; answer every question from the media and from voters; get out there and earn the nomination just like everybody else.
Paul Begala: Dems’ circular firing squad
Mike Bloomberg lost. Everyone else had their ups and downs, but at the end of the Democratic cage match, there was one clear winner: Donald Trump.
The divisive, dishonest, disgusting incumbent President could not have scripted a better reality show. For the umpteenth time, Democrats flyspecked each other’s health care plans, but where was the mention that Trump wants to cut Medicare and Medicaid?
They attacked each other over how they would pay for health care, but never mentioned that Trump is in court as we speak seeking to give insurance companies the right to discriminate against you or deny you coverage altogether if you have a preexisting condition.
Freshly impeached, Mr. Trump has never once enjoyed the support of the American people. His only hope is to drag his Democratic opponent down to his level. Tonight, the Democratic candidates seem all-in on Trump’s strategy. He may not even need Putin’s help if the Democrats keep doing his job for him.
There were tactical moments that were thrilling. Elizabeth Warren gutted Bloomberg on his non-disclosure agreements in cases of alleged sexual harassment. Pete Buttigieg coolly eviscerated the two frontrunners at once, declaring Democrats should “put forward somebody who is actually a Democrat,” not Bernie Sanders who “wants to burn this party down,” while Bloomberg “wants to buy this party out.”
Biden showed fire, Klobuchar showed grit, Bernie Sanders showed he doesn’t give a darn about releasing his medical records, despite promising to do so.
At the end of the night, the most passionate supporters of each candidate could probably find something to crow about. But for those of us who simply want to unseat Trump, this was another Democratic circular firing squad.
Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and served as a counselor to Clinton in the White House.
Van Jones: Bloomberg met an iceberg called Warren
Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg went into this debate as a one-billion-dollar Titanic, convinced his ad deluge made him invincible. Then he met an iceberg called Elizabeth Warren. She took him to task and prosecuted him in a way I have never seen in a debate.
Worse, Bloomberg simply was not prepared. He walked into his dream scenario: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders rising, former Vice President Joe Biden falling — and everyone needing a hero to walk onto the stage. Then his dream scenario turned into a nightmare.
A lot of African Americans were willing to place some measure of hope in Bloomberg. All they wanted to see was some contrition and some professionalism. Bloomberg gave them neither. He is spending so much on ads that it may not matter. But the debate was a warning that if he wants to be the nominee — much less beat President Donald Trump — he needs to go back to work, listen to his team, then come back and do better.
Hilary Rosen: No one made a dent in Bernie Sanders
Each of the candidates on the Nevada stage tonight were at times brilliant, compelling, sincere, effective — and they also stumbled. But mainly the Democrats’ Las Vegas debate was a total free-for-all of attacks and counter attacks. Watching it you would never know who to trust, who was ahead and who needs a different strategy. But here is the seriousness of the outcome. Sanders is in the lead. And nothing tonight has changed that dynamic.
Sanders would have you believe that all of the inequality in this country is former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s fault. It is only Bloomberg’s inexperience that prevented him from cogently asking Sanders what he has been doing in Congress for the last 35 years while this system was getting so out of whack.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was powerful, but she had one main target, Bloomberg. Same with former Vice President Joe Biden and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobochar was an effective equal opportunity attacker.
There was no clear rhetorical winner tonight. But if Warren, Biden, Buttegeig and Klobochar think that Bloomberg is their obstacle to the nomination, they aren’t doing the math. Sanders is their blockade, and they didn’t make a dent in him tonight.
Scott Jennings: These candidates seemed like they couldn’t stand each other
Finally, this debate has revealed what I thought was probably true—these Democrats running for president really seemed to hate each other. Which makes me wonder: if they’ve all gotten on each other nerves so badly, isn’t it likely they’ve gotten on the voters’ nerves, too?
The prolonged squabbles over who can best demonize and punish the successful in America is exactly the conversation Trump needs as he tries to rekindle a relationship with suburban voters who moved away from the GOP in 2018. Sure, they might not like some of Trump’s antics but the Democrats seem to think the people who get up and go to work every day, pay their taxes, and follow the rules are the problem in America.
And Trump will use that against the eventual nominee like a battering ram. Democrats are describing an American economy that doesn’t exist in reality for suburban voters, who must be thinking: Democrats are promising to take what I’ve worked hard for away from me and give it to someone else.
As for who “won” this debate, aside from Trump? Nobody laid a glove on Sanders, and the question about who should be the nominee if no candidate has enough delegates on the first ballot was telling. Everyone—except Bernie—signaled their willingness to allow the convention to take it away from the pledged delegate leader on the second ballot when the “super delegates” get involved. If that happens to Sanders in Milwaukee, Trump will be reelected easily as the Sanders faction revolts and either stays home or casts protest votes for Trump or a minor candidate.
Alice Stewart: In Vegas, hard work and vanity projects
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders turned a direct question about a negative poll into a positive: two-thirds of all voters said they were uncomfortable with a socialist candidate for president, one of the moderators noted. He parried: “Who was winning?” Him, of course.
Former Vice President Joe Biden seemed to fade into the woodwork and didn’t have a stand-out moment. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg spent too much time attacking each other to gain any ground.
Aside from the array of issues candidates wanted to attack Bloomberg on, there clearly is a larger frustration — his opponents believe he is trying to buy the presidency and ignore early states.
I’d imagine the Bloomberg camp is hoping that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” If things don’t change, his shadow campaign will be nothing more than a very expensive vanity project.
Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator, NPR contributor, former resident fellow at Harvard University and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President.
Aaron David Miller: Bloomberg’s nightmare turns real
This could have been Michael Bloomberg’s night. But instead it was his nightmare. Viewers were anxious for a first look at the billionaire former mayor of New York. And to meet or exceed them, Bloomberg had to do three things. Sadly for him, he failed at all three.
First, he had to establish a stage presence. But throughout the debate, Bloomberg seemed disengaged and withdrawn — uncomfortable and emotionless. His performance improved a bit later during the debate. But for the most part, he seemed unable to project a vibrant persona, let alone charisma. And for a tough businessman, he seemed strangely hesitant, reserved and poorly equipped to push back hard on his opponents’ charges of sexism, racism and capitalism.
Second, he failed to make the case for electability Bloomberg seemed to make little of his potentially strongest talking point — his capacity to beat President Donald Trump. This should have been his single most effective narrative, and he should have turned at least part of every question to that end. In the end, he remained a cardboard figure seemingly unable to outline what he actually stands for.
Third, he could not defend his most controversial policies. On stop and frisk, Bloomberg didn’t offer anything remotely resembling a sincere apology as much as an explanation for why it didn’t work. But the real damage which may well prove fatal to Bloomberg’s campaign was his response to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s question: would he free women who had settled harassment or discrimination suits from their non-disclosure agreements so their accounts might be heard? Bloomberg refused, stumbled and fumbled trying to lawyer his way out of the dead-end in which he was stuck.
Raul Reyes: Bloomberg’s rivals show they can bring their A-game
Live from Las Vegas, Wednesday night was fight night. And there were two important developments. First, it is clear that, as the stakes get higher, virtually all of the candidates can rise to the occasion and bring their A-game. Second, it is equally clear that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a disastrous night — as he was flattened, over and over, by his fellow candidates.
Bloomberg came to this debate woefully unprepared: he faltered in the face of foreseeable pointed questions about his stop-and-frisk policing practice and allegations of a hostile work environment at his company. Not only did Bloomberg not provide effective comebacks, he came across as peevish and irritated at having to participate in a democratic process.
Sarah Isgur: The debate may not be enough to save Warren’s campaign
After months of losing momentum in the polls, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren pulled no punches against the new guy on the stage, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Though she challenged him on many issues, her most notable moment came when she asked Bloomberg if he would release women who had accused him or his company of sexual harassment and/or gender discrimination from their non-disclosure agreements.
His dissatisfying answer was not particularly cogent or inspiring. And it may well stunt the billionaire’s rise in the polls ahead of the $400 million bet he’s placed on Super Tuesday. But its far less clear whether it will help Warren.
On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that there aren’t some Democratic primary voters out there who would love to see tonight’s Warren give that debate performance against President Donald Trump. But will that thought be enough to change their vote? We’ll find out Saturday.
Edwin Lyngar: Elizabeth Warren brought the fight
The version of Elizabeth Warren that liberals love showed up tonight to do battle, dominating the early debate, pounding rivals and cozying up to her natural ideological counterpart, Bernie Sanders. The first question was about Republican-turned-Democrat, Mike Bloomberg, who seemed clueless. The entire debate stage seemed aligned against Bloomberg, a billionaire who was tailor-made for vilification by any Democrat.
Edwin Lyngar is a Sunday columnist for the Reno Gazette Journal, former essayist for Salon and teaches English at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Bakari Sellers: The only good news for Bloomberg
You often hear that what you get on Twitter isn’t real life, and that apparently also applies to Bloomberg, who has shown a tendency on Twitter to be quick witted and entertaining, but who left much to be desired on the debate stage. In fact, the debate raised more questions than answers — namely how he’d perform in primetime debates against President Donald Trump and what contrasts he could meaningfully draw with Trump, given his own record and bumbling comments on women, policing and even his own taxes (what’s wrong with TurboTax?).
Beyond Bloomberg’s dismal performance, it’s hard to believe that the debate changed the trajectory of the race. Nevada is still a race for second behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. South Carolina is still former Vice President Joe Biden’s race to lose. And Super Tuesday appears to be up for grabs — with California potentially looming large in its ability to give Sanders a potentially insurmountable delegate lead.
If nothing else, Democrats should encourage more forums like this that force Bloomberg and Sanders to answer the tough questions and to demonstrate that they can (or can’t) allay Democratic fears regarding their suitability (Bloomberg) and their electability (Sanders) come November.
Bakari Sellers is a former Democratic member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and a CNN commentator.
Victor Joecks: Sanders may decide billionaires serve a useful purpose after all
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders needs to send former Mayor Mike Bloomberg a thank you card.
At the beginning of the debate, he didn’t interject to defend himself. When he did speak up, he looked shell-shocked and confused. For instance, his answer to questions regarding “stop and frisk” was essentially that he was very sorry for implementing it, even though it worked.
It got so bad that I wondered when Bloomberg was going to buy the company airing the debate and scrub it from the internet.
The attacks on Bloomberg made for entertaining television, but it’s hard to see how they change the trajectory of the race. Sanders entered the night in the lead. This debate may scramble who’s in second through sixth place, but only one person is going to win the nomination.
If the other candidates keeping attacking Bloomberg, instead of the front-runner, Sanders may decide billionaires serve a useful purpose after all.
Victor Joecks is a political columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. As a conservative, he won’t be caucusing.
Charlie Dent: Bernie Sanders is still the guy to beat
With her campaign fading, Massachusetts Senator Warren came to play and hit hard early at Wednesday night’s debate—mainly against Michael Bloomberg, first on his alleged treatment of women, and later on his company’s nondisclosure agreements (NDA’s). He did not seem well prepared for this. Although Warren had a strong, aggressive performance tonight, it remains to be seen whether she moved the needle. She is tonight’s runner up.
Neither Bloomberg nor former Vice President Joe Biden had inspiring performances. Biden went largely unattacked, suggesting that his opponents no longer see him as a threat. Bloomberg—who is a real threat– took plenty of hits.
Bernie Sanders was the debate winner. Despite some hits on Medicare for All, he remains the frontrunner. When the other candidates attack each other, Bernie wins by escaping without much damage. But he is the guy to beat; the candidates’ fire must be directed at him.
After having both left New Hampshire with real momentum, Minnesota Senator Klobuchar and South Bend Mayor Buttigieg engaged in a lengthy, heated exchange toward the end of the night. But they needed to be going after Sanders— not each other — and appealing to people of color, a constituency where both are significantly underperforming. They both performed well Wednesday, but neither had a great night.
Some advice for Bloomberg: Stop apologizing and own your record. Stop talking about “stop and frisk.” New York City was the safest big city in America under your leadership. Continue hitting the absurdity of the far left. In politics, no one plays good defense; go on offense and attack. Deflect Warren’s attacks and hit her record and reckless proposals. Then pivot to Sanders …and strike.
Lastly, President Trump, was no doubt pleased by the mutual destruction on display in Vegas.
Charlie Dent is a former US Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who served as chairman of the House Ethics Committee from 2015 until 2016.
Frida Ghitis: A divided opposition is great news for Trump
It was an acrimonious, stinging debate — one where many shone but everyone was wounded. What more could President Donald Trump ask for?
Buttigieg kept his composure. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, trying to regain momentum for her flagging campaign, fought like a woman with nothing left to lose, and she did the most damage to the newcomer, punching former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg off balance on a question he should have been better prepared for: non-disclosure agreement with women who have worked for him.
Bloomberg had a few good moments, as when he noted that no one else on the stage has started a business, and pointed out he’s giving away his billions — or when he responded to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ call to turn over a portion of every company to employees saying, “I can’t think of a way that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation.” But it was not a good night for him.
Throughout the night, Sanders looked angry, rattled, red. We’ve heard his views; he promotes them passionately. He does a great job highlighting what is wrong with America — inequality, expensive health care, and more. He did little to strengthen his leading position, but everyone else helped by piling on against Bloomberg and firing on each other, dividing the not-Bernie vote.
Biden did well with the spotlight away from him. He had a strong performance.
Still, the Democratic lovefest is over. A divided opposition is great news for Trump.
Tara Setmayer: Sanders should have been the target, not Bloomberg
There was no shortage of zingers during the most contentious Democratic debate to date: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar had strong performances, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg had a few rare missteps, overreaching on his attacks on Klobuchar, and former Vice President Joe Biden turned in his best performance yet.
No, the shortage was in the topics that should’ve been discussed to remind voters of the contrasts between the Democratic candidates and President Donald Trump.
The country has just endured an impeachment trial that highlighted the lawlessness and abuse of power by the President. Since his acquittal, Trump has become even more emboldened, flouting the rule of law with his latest interference in Department of Justice matters. Where was a question about that?
Where were the questions about how the candidates would handle the public corruption, incompetence and dysfunctional governance running rampant in this White House?
Where were the questions about national security? Foreign policy? These are issues that the President has unilateral influence over and matter greatly to America’s standing in the world.
Instead, the tenor of the debate was pitched more to fomenting intraparty drama than determining who is best suited to beat Trump in November. And there is no doubt that the circular-firing-squad sniping only helps Trump.
What also helps bolster Trump is the possibility of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as the nominee. He gave several answers that should be disqualifying for him in must-win states for Democrats in November. Banning fracking certainly wouldn’t go over well in places like western Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where thousands of well-paying jobs would disappear. Medicare for All threatens private health insurance that many unions enjoy, which doesn’t go over well in Michigan.
Although the most devastating incoming fire was aimed primarily at debate newcomer former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who stumbled miserably at times, the real focus should be on stopping the momentum of Sanders. He’s largely escaped thorough scrutiny of his record of extremist leftist positions. If the end goal is to beat Trump, Sanders cannot be the Democratic nominee.
Tara Setmayer is a former GOP communications director, host of the “Honestly Speaking with Tara” podcast, a Harvard Institute of Politics 2020 Resident Fellow and a CNN political contributor. Follow her on Twitter @tarasetmayer.