By Danielle Ryan
20 Feb, 2020
With Bernie Sanders opening a double-digit lead in the national polls, Joe Biden receding into irrelevance, and centrists like Amy Klobuchar starting to lose their shine, moderate Democrats and media pundits were hoping Bloomberg could swoop in and offer a ‘realistic’ alternative to Sanders’ scary socialism.
They were sorely disappointed.
Ripped to shreds
Instead of riding to the establishment’s rescue, Americans watched on Wednesday night as billionaire Bloomberg’s campaign imploded before their eyes. The former New York mayor was skillfully steamrolled by his rivals, who were in no mood to let him waltz into the race buoyed by nothing more than his deep pockets, having failed to even contest the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary.
Without the cover of flashy campaign ads and scripted speeches, Bloomberg came across as unprepared and out-of-touch, as he was battered on everything from his controversial ‘stop and frisk’ policy in New York to his treatment of women and his personal tax returns. His performance was so sleepy, flat and generally unappealing, that he made Biden look competent and captivating.
Bloomberg should never have showed up to this debate… and I think he knows that. #DemDebate
— Krystal Ball (@krystalball) February 20, 2020
Elizabeth Warren dismantled Bloomberg like a pro when it came to his alleged past comments on women. She devliered some of the best zingers of the night – and at one point her campaign tweeted that she had raised $435,000 in just 30 minutes.
It was still Sanders, however, who provided the starkest contrast to voters between the two options on offer: more of the same or a rowdy ‘democratic socialist’ calling for a political revolution.
Sanders’ views have long been misrepresented in the media. Earlier this month, for instance, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews bizarrely suggested that the Vermont senator would like to see the rich executed in Central Park. Bloomberg tried to continue in that tradition on Wednesday night by implying that the senator was a communist.
We’re not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that,” he said. “It was called communism, and it just didn’t work.”
The distortion quickly backfired, however, teeing Sanders up for one of his best moments of the night.
“We are living in many ways in a socialist society right now. The problem is… we have socialism for the very rich – rugged individualism for the poor.”
Sanders went on to describe tax breaks for billionaires as more “socialism for the rich” while the poor – Walmart workers for instance – need to be subsidized by the taxpayer with Medicaid and food stamps “because the wealthiest family in America pays starvation wages.”
Bloomberg received some decent applause when he defended his wealth and declared he was “giving it all away to make this country better” – but buying one’s way into a presidential election will hardly be regarded by most as a selfless act for the betterment of all.
The media tries to dunk on Bernie with the word socialism – what happens next, single handedly ends the debate in Bernie's favor…
— J̶O̸N̶ (@Bern4Bern) February 20, 2020
When he described himself as having “worked very hard” for his money, Sanders called it a “grotesque level of income inequality” and spoke directly and empathetically to working people who feel like “cogs in a machine.”
“You know what, Mr. Bloomberg, it wasn’t you who made all that money. Maybe your workers played some role in that as well,” he said.
Time to get real
Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar fought the battle of the centrists – and made it personal. Buttigieg needled her on her supposed foreign policy chops (and her recent inability to name the Mexican president) and she accused him of calling her “dumb” – but neither of them had the kind of stand-out moments enjoyed by Sanders or Warren.
Senator Warren showed up tonight and did her homework, everyone else's homework, and then taught the class.
— Loren DeJonge Schulman (@LorenRaeDeJ) February 20, 2020
The funny thing about Sanders, is that to many non-Americans, nothing about him seems particularly radical. To most Europeans, his promises sound like the standard offerings of a functioning, humane society. It’s no wonder, then, that so many Americans, faced with staggering levels of inequality, buckling under crippling debt and unable to access affordable health care are being drawn to his campaign and socialist ideals.
If he wins, Sanders will have to work within the confines of the system that exists. He will need to work with congress to get legislation passed. He knows that. Americans know that. There’s no magic solution on offer – but if Democrats really want to see Trump packing his bags next January, they need to field a candidate who can muster the same levels of enthusiasm from the left that Trump did from the right. Clinton proved in 2016 that fence-sitting centrism is no match for the kind of populist, anti-establishment revolt Americans are in the mood for.
The vitriol directed at Sanders from his rivals (and indeed from the MSNBC and CNN anchors’ desks) does not reflect reality. It’s time for the Democratic establishment to wake up and smell the coffee.