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Opinion

Column: Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy is doing one thing: making his Democratic rivals look good

Election 2020 Debate
Michael R. Bloomberg, left, took to the Democratic debate stage for the first time Wednesday night.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

We should have learned this by now.

The untested candidate who enters the field with a big advantage — name recognition, money, all the right credentials — almost always flops on his face.

In 2012, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry tossed his big ol’ cowboy hat into the presidential nominating ring. He pulled into town — Des Moines, that is — in a big, black touring bus that looked like the Death Star. Get outta his way, y’all. And then, on the debate stage, the guy couldn’t remember the name of a federal department he wanted to obliterate (it was Energy, the department he went on to head). That wasn’t just a momentary lapse, embarrassing but forgivable. With his shoulder shrug and goofy “Oops,” he sounded like a lightweight.

And what do you know, he ended up a few years later doing the cha-cha on “Dancing With the Stars.”

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In 2016, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — he of the family dynasty — arrived on the scene with a campaign chest so big everyone assumed it would scare away serious rivals. See how that worked out.

And then, in 2020, when it became clear that Democrats were having trouble settling on a candidate (because Democrats always have trouble settling on a candidate), along comes another big bad billionaire to blot out his rivals’ sun and take the prize for himself.

For a lot of conflicted Democrats, the idea of a Michael Bloomberg candidacy started to sound appealing. He’s not really a Democrat, but he’s not really a Republican, either. He supports some of the Democrats’ polestar issues: abortion rights and gun control. Maybe he could bring moderates and disaffected Republicans to the Democrats’ side?

Then reality kicked in.

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On Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Bloomberg got creamed.

On stage, he was the metaphorical equivalent of the grain of sand that irritates the oyster so much it creates a luminous pearl.

All the other candidates shone in comparison to the underwhelming billionaire.

Bernie Sanders was at his most passionate, especially when Bloomberg tried to play his own disingenuous class-warfare card.

“What a wonderful country we have,” quipped Bloomberg. “The best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What did I miss here?” (He missed that his argument is specious; politicians committed to bettering the lives of poor and working-class Americans are not required to take a vow of poverty.)

“Let’s talk about democratic socialism,” said Sanders, rising to the challenge. “We are living in many ways in a socialist society right now. … When Donald Trump gets $800 million in tax breaks and subsidies to build luxury condominiums, that’s socialism for the rich. We have to subsidize Walmart’s workers on Medicaid and food stamps because the wealthiest family in America pays starvation wages. That’s socialism for the rich. I believe in democratic socialism for working people. Not billionaires.”

Bloomberg also brought out the steely spine of Ms. Nice Guy, Elizabeth Warren, who was uncharacteristically harsh: She attacked Bloomberg for his history of sexism — of calling women “horse-faced lesbians” and “fat broads.” She slammed his embrace of the “stop-and-frisk” police tactics that made life hell for young men of color in New York City during his tenure as mayor. She knocked him for refusing to release women he made payouts to from the nondisclosure agreements that allow victimizers to keep on harassing.

“Democrats,” she said, “take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”

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And Warren came to the rescue, girl-power style, of Amy Klobuchar, who was chided by smartest-boy-in-the-room Pete Buttigieg for forgetting the name of Mexico’s president during a recent interview with Telemundo.

“You’re staking your candidacy on your Washington experience,” Buttigieg said. “You’re on the committee that oversees border security. You’re on the committee that does trade. You’re literally in the part of the committee that’s overseeing these things.”

Klobuchar bristled at his pettiness: “Are you trying to say that I’m dumb?” (And yes, that was a not-so-subtle attempt to play the sexism card.)

But Warren cut in: “Can I just defend Sen. Klobuchar for a minute? This is not right. I understand that she forgot the name. … It happens to everybody on this stage.”

As we approach Super Tuesday, March 3, when voters in 14 states (plus American Samoa and Democrats Abroad) will have their say, it’s clear that rival campaigns are in a panic about Sanders’ increasing strength.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg’s campaign called on Joe Biden, Warren and Buttigieg to drop out.

“Biden and Warren have crumbled … Buttigieg has stagnated,” said the Bloomberg memo. “If they remain in the race, “they will propel Sanders to a seemingly insurmountable delegate lead.

On Thursday, Buttigieg’s campaign strongly suggested Bloomberg should leave the race, for the exact same reason.

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“If Bloomberg remains in the race despite showing he cannot offer a viable alternative to Bernie Sanders, he will propel Sanders to a seemingly insurmountable delegate lead.”

Well, God forbid the candidate with the most delegates should get the nomination.

I don’t know exactly how Sanders will fare against Trump if it comes to that — and you don’t either — but I do know this: Every Democratic candidate has pledged to support the eventual nominee, including Bloomberg, who has said he will put a billion dollars of his fortune toward ousting Trump.

So now we know, Bloomberg may not have the presence to go the distance in the Democratic race. His money, however, is always welcome.


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