In a slugfest of a debate worthy of Las Vegas, billionaire Michael Bloomberg came under attack from all sides.
The field of candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination has been shrinking for months, but on Wednesday night in Nevada, the debate stage had one significant new arrival.
For the first time since he launched his unconventional, money-suffused campaign in November, the former New York mayor directly faced off against his opponents.
And they nearly took his face off, rhetorically speaking.
Everyone v Bloomberg
Right out of the starting gate, candidate after candidate took turns taking shots at the newcomer to the contest. It was the political equivalent of an incredibly lopsided tag-team wrestling match.
Bernie Sanders wasted no time highlighting the mayor’s support of a stop-and-frisk New York City police policy that was heavily criticised by civil rights activists.
Elizabeth Warren brought up derogatory comments Bloomberg is reported to have made about women and the private agreements he has made to settle sexual harassment and hostile workplace lawsuits.
“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” she said, in an attempt to tie Bloomberg to Donald Trump.
Amy Klobuchar accused him of hiding behind his TV adverts, while Joe Biden highlighted his past criticism of Barack Obama’s healthcare reform.
Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg started off with a two-fer – going after both Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders, who it should not be forgotten is leading the national polls at the moment.
He warned that if Sanders and Bloomberg are the only candidates left standing after the next few rounds of voting, Democrats will be left with two polarising figures – “a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks money is the root of all power.”
“We shouldn’t have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out,” he added.
All of Bloomberg’s opponents had their attack lines rehearsed and ready to launch, and Bloomberg at times appeared to struggle to keep up.
He apologised for his stop-and-frisk policy, saying that he didn’t realise how harmful it was to his city’s black community. He stood by his decision not to drop the nondisclosure agreements that keep details of the lawsuits against his companies private, adding “None of them have accused me of doing anything wrong, except maybe they didn’t like the joke I told.”
That solicited groans from the audience.
It’s been more than 10 years since Bloomberg has participated in any kind of political debate. On Wednesday night, he dove headfirst into the deep end of the pool. The American public will soon have a chance to decide if he sinks or swims.
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