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Friday, April 3, 2020

Bernie Won; He Has Bloomberg to Thank for It

A few semi-random observations about last night’s (fiery! and riveting! in a way only a circular firing squad can be) debate:

After last night, one might be forgiven for thinking these candidates despise each other more than they despise Donald Trump. Trump was largely absent from the proceedings; he didn’t get much attention because the candidates were too busy ripping each other — and Mike Bloomberg — as false prophets. It doesn’t look to me like any of them is capable of uniting what is an increasingly fractured Democratic Party, badly divided between left activists and moderate progressives.

I thought Klobuchar didn’t have a particularly good night, and she needed one to sustain the bit of momentum she’d gained out of her decent showing in New Hampshire. She got visibly angry as the debate went on, and her weirdly intense sideline feud with Buttigieg — it’s clear she’s furious that he’s even allowed on the same stage with her, much less doing better with the voters she believes should be hers — is off-putting. She may have knocked him down a peg, but she didn’t come across at all well in those exchanges either. 

Warren did well for herself by using Bloomberg as a punching bag — they all did but she landed the disqualifying knockout blows — and if she can exceed expectations by finishing a reasonably strong second in Nevada she could potentially revive her flagging candidacy. Then again, the same is even more true of Biden: he actually did pretty well last night, landing a few effective shots at Bloomberg’s target-rich track record — and if he can finish a strong second in Nevada and then win South Carolina, he’ll be anointed (by me, anyway) the “Comeback Septuagenarian” and have real momentum going into Super Tuesday.

My biggest takeaway from the debate, though, is that Bloomberg is shaping up to be exactly what I suspected him to be from the moment he got in: a divisive spoiler candidate who will destroy any chances of the moderate progressive wing of the party to unify behind a single candidate. This should have been the debate where the other candidates ganged up on the clear frontrunner, Bernie Sanders, and fully probed his weaknesses. 

Instead, they ganged up on Bloomberg, and he showed (shocking, I know) that an aging patrician billionaire CEO who has spent decades surrounding himself with yes people isn’t likely to, (a) either speak the language of present day Democratic politics, or (b) be nimble enough as a debater to skate away from his long track record of questionable comments and policy choices. By taking the blows that should have fallen on Bernie, and by spending hundreds of millions to prop up his divisive vanity candidacy, Bloomberg’s chief impact on this race is likely to be that he hands the nomination to Sanders. 

To put it another, and more pointed, way, from my vantage point it looks like last night Mike Bloomberg died on the cross of his own hubris, thus absolving Bernie Sanders of his sins. Team Trump must be pleased. 

Sandeep Kaushik
Sandeep Kaushik is a political and public affairs consultant in Seattle. In a previous life, he was a staff writer and political columnist at the Stranger, and did a stint as a Washington State correspondent for Time Magazine and for the Boston Globe, back in the olden days when such positions still existed.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Sandeep, the New Testament may never recover.. . Good analysis. Nobody wants to go after Sanders on his weaknesses, for fear of irrevocably alienating his easily-triggered base. Bloomberg provided the ideal alternate target.

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