Money can’t buy a good debate performance, as multibillionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg learned Wednesday.
Bloomberg came into Wednesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate with a target on his back.
After skipping the early part of the primary race and then dumping nine-figures into a wave of nationwide television advertising, Bloomberg’s campaign released a memo Wednesday morning that portrayed four other candidates on stage as, essentially, political dead weight. Bloomberg’s campaign urged them to get out of the way and clear the path for a Bloomberg-Sanders primary.
Clearly, Bloomberg’s opponents were peeved at their new competition. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) set the tone early Wednesday night in Las Vegas.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians,” and no I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” she said, to an audible reaction from the crowd.
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) February 20, 2020
After Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) hammered Bloomberg’s memo — “I don’t think you look at Donald Trump and say, ‘We need someone richer in the White House,'” she quipped — the former mayor answered his colleagues with a tepid response.
“I think we have two questions to face tonight. One is, who can beat Donald Trump? And number two, who can do the job if they get into the White House?” Bloomberg said.
Michael Bloomberg fits the bill, Michael Bloomberg said, ignoring the withering criticisms of him on stage and focusing directly on the President.
Later, attacked on the “stop-and-frisks” carried out by police in New York — the use of the maneuver increased massively during Bloomberg’s tenure — the mayor used passive voice, messily dodging one of the most predictable questions of the night.
“Well, if I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing that I’m really worried about, embarrassed about, was how it turned out with stop-and-frisk,” he said, haltingly. Later, he said of the policy: “What happened, however, was it got out of control.”
One answer from the former New York mayor even solicited a loud groan from the audience in attendance in Las Vegas, regarding the tax returns he has not yet released.
“It just takes us a long time,” he said, adding: “I can’t go to TurboTax.”
That was just the beginning.
Warren, who needled Bloomberg all night, nearly buried him in questions about non-disclosure agreements former employees of his have signed, and which prevent them from discussing potential allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment at Bloomberg’s eponymous financial data and media company.
Asked about former employees’ claims that he created a hostile workplace for women, Bloomberg responded by listing female employment statistics at his company adding, “I am very proud of the fact that about two weeks ago, we were awarded the best place to work — second-best place in America.”
“I hope you heard what his defense was, ‘I’ve been nice to some women,'” Warren jabbed back, before pressing Bloomberg to release his former employees from their NDAs, “so we can hear their side of the story.”
“We have a very few non-disclosure agreements–” he began responding.
“How many is that?” Warren asked.
“None of them accuse me of dong anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.” More groans from the audience.
The agreements were to “keep it quiet,” he said.
Warren didn’t quit. “‘Some’ is how many? And when you say they signed them, if they wish now to speak out and tell their side of the story about what it is they alleged, that’s now okay with you? You’re releasing them on television tonight? Is that right?”
No, Bloomberg said. Warren smelled blood. “The question is, are the women bound by being muzzled by you? You could release them from that immediately.”
Even former Vice President Joe Biden, who has faced criticism for unwanted touching, weighed in: “All the mayor has to do is say ‘You are released from the non-disclosure agreement.”
Bloomberg did not bend, leading the crowd to openly boo him when he delivered his final line on the matter: “I said we’re not going to end these agreements because they were made consensually.”
Warren goes after Bloomberg over NDAs concerning alleged sexual harassment at his company pic.twitter.com/ugqlkdqYH3
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) February 20, 2020
It was a sign of the debate’s tenor that, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) only briefly mentioned the former mayor’s support for George W. Bush and opposition to the minimum wage, Bloomberg seemed to be getting off easy.
“Everyone came to destroy Mike tonight,” Bloomberg’s campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement after the debate. “It didn’t happen.”
Sheekey added of his boss, “He was just warming up tonight.”