Bernie Sitting Pretty

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 19: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Paris Las Vegas on February 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Six... LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 19: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Paris Las Vegas on February 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Six candidates qualified for the third Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, which comes just days before the Nevada caucuses on February 22. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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February 19, 2020 11:04 p.m.

A fascinating night with Michael Bloomberg on the stage for the first time and an inspired performance from Elizabeth Warren, but could the night have gone any better for Bernie Sanders?

Bloomberg’s gambit is to rescue the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders, but he barely laid a glove on him, mostly because he was hemorrhaging from the Warren attacks.

What volleys Bloomberg was able to get off toward Sanders were almost comical. It’s Sanders’ fault that the tax code is skewed toward billionaires? Sanders’ three homes makes the billionaire a better nominee?

One debate is not a campaign. Bloomberg still has the cash to outspend everyone. His ads won’t stop, and they’ve been moving the public opinion dial. But this was Bloomberg’s personal introduction to a national audience. It did not go well. He was not a dominant presence on stage. He stumbled badly when pressed. He didn’t show any special mastery of policy or of rhetoric. He seemed diminished.

Bloomberg is positioning himself as a white knight, yet he didn’t stand out either personally or thematically. There’s a disconnect there, a cognitive dissonance that I suspect will turn off people otherwise open to the idea of Bloomberg as savior. But a caveat: not nearly as many people will see his debate performance as will see his ads. We’ve never encountered a situation quite like this before: a well-funded late entrant in a crowded, unsettled field. It’s fascinating.

Warren fought ferociously to be the only viable alternative to Sanders. She had to make quick work of Bloomberg and fend off Buttegieg, Klobuchar and Biden. An almost impossible task. But on this night, in this forum, she pulled it off. As an electoral strategy though, it’s a very difficult needle for her to thread.

Sanders ended the night still standing. No one really laid a hand on him. Warren did his dirty work on Bloomberg.

Bloomberg was the wild card coming in that threatened to upend a race shaping up nicely for Sanders. But it didn’t happen. At least not tonight. Not on this stage.

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