Oy, the debate

Ira Lacher reflects on the February 19 six-candidate clash in Las Vegas, which drew the largest television audience yet for a Democratic debate this cycle. -promoted by Laura Belin

“Welcome to the NFL, kid.” — The sarcastic greeting veteran players give to highly touted rookies who are roughed up and even injured in their first pro football contests.

“Welcome to the party, man.” — The sarcastic greeting Joe Biden gave to Mike Bloomberg as they exited the stage after Wednesday’s debate.

Based on Wednesday’s pro wrestling show in Las Vegas, the former New York City mayor is being compared to Ishtar. The 1987 film cost a then-unheard of $40 million and was pilloried as one of the worst disasters in movie history.

Bloomberg has poured more than $300 million into TV ads running in Super Tuesday states, enabling enough poll recognition that the Democratic National Committee had no choice but to include him in the latest debate. But his appearance was a disaster.

Led largely by Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the other five candidates leveled body blow after body blow at him, going after such obvious targets as his dubious support for the city’s stop-and-frisk policing, which disproportionately impacted black and brown residents, slew of sexual harassment complaints from his female employees, and, of course, his money. Supporters said Bloomberg recovered late in the debate, but it wasn’t enough for viewers to see the man behind the curtain.

If Bloomberg was the obvious loser of the debate, was there a winner? Yes. And he wasn’t at the debate. No, not fellow billionaire Tom Steyer, whose estimated $1.6 billion couldn’t even caddy to the New Yorker’s presumed $61.8 billion. No, the winner was Donald Trump.

“I saw so much bickering between Democratic candidates tearing each other down and going after each other and forgetting the fact that what really counts is beating Donald Trump in November of 2020,” Steyer told the Washington Post. “I saw people going after each other’s personality and records instead of remembering in fact the Democratic Party needs to win in November.”

The debate was part wrestling match, part take-to-the-mattresses gang war, with everyone going after everyone else. Sanders, the front-runner in most national polls, took hits from Warren for his Medicare-for-all plan. Playing Luca Brasi, she also blasted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and fellow Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota for their health plans, calling them, respectively but without respect, a “PowerPoint” and a “Post-It Note.” The two centrists then went at each other for their experience, or lack of. Joe Biden, the presumptive front-runner since Creation, wasn’t a target, apparently because he’s perceived to not matter anymore.

Sanders’ penchant for not playing well with others came forth when he declared that the candidate with the most delegates should get the nomination even if that figure is not a majority, as Democratic Party rules stipulate. He was the only candidate to say so.

All this points to a convention fight, which, say an overwhelming number of Democratic party strategists, would be a disaster of Titanic proportions. It could even rival the 1968 fiasco in Chicago. Amid a police riot, delegates nominated Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson’s vice president and heir to the Texan’s unpopular Vietnam War. Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon that year, in an election that veered the Republican Party irrevocably to the far right.

In such a convention, it’s conceivable that Sanders would get what he wants, meaning the Democratic nominee would be the heir to George McGovern. A liberal antiwar activist, the senator from South Dakota suffered the worst Electoral College defeat in U.S. history, to an unpopular president already tainted by the Watergate scandal.

To beat Trump, Democrats desperately need an outpouring of support from independents and other swing voters, most of who tack center. Buttigieg and Klobuchar, the hope of Democratic pragmatists, were polling in single digits even before their Wednesday Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots performance, which won’t make them any new friends. Criticized for their relationships with their constituencies’ African American communities, neither is expected to do well in next Tuesday in South Carolina, the first state with a substantial black electorate. Warren, who had a great debate, should pick up momentum but probably not enough to knock Sanders off the pole. Which should make the Bernie Bros happy.

Sanders may, in fact, have a clearer shot at the nomination he was convinced was stolen from him in 2016. Now, all he has to do is convince tens of millions of Americans that a maverick and avowed socialist won’t take away their health insurance, destroy capitalism as we know it and put America on the path toward Marxism. Welcome to the party, man.

Top image: Screen shot from Politico’s video of highlights from the February 19 Democratic debate.

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  • Did we watch the same debate?

    I sat in front of a TV tuned to the debate for two hours, but I did not see what you just described.

    I saw an amazingly strong performance by Warren. She hit hard but not unfairly (and I am an Amy supporter). She even stepped up to defend Amy against the badgering from the Telemundo moderator. I saw the animosity between Amy and Pete very clearly. I saw all of them make a fool of Bloomberg, which he totally deserved. An extra nod to Warren for eviscerating him right out of the gate. Bernie and Joe seemed to be more interested to sit back and watch the show. But even they piled on Bloomberg. But last night was not about Bernie. If it was about anyone it was Warren.

    So what I want to know is why when Elizabeth Warren had an incredibly strong night you barely mention her and when you do you share her credit with Bernie. And people wonder why we’ve never had a woman president!

  • Debates? Or Twitter and Ads?

    A question raised by Bloomberg’s campaign: And how many nascent Bloomberg supporters watched the debate? How many are just reading others’ take on the debate or just watching the ads? Those paying attention are not the majority of voters, sadly. One supporter used a Ralph Nader book title to bolster his argument. The book is called ONLY THE SUPER RICH CAN SAVE US, and it is a fantasy about the super rich waking up and doing the right thing. IMHO anyone who wants to do that should be satisfied with a halo and not need an oval office.

    Warren did very well to highlight the well known sexual harassment instances that constitutes very real downside to Bloomberg (well known in the greater NYC area). See the article below for more details on specifics, like telling a pregnant employee, “Kill it!”