On Wednesday, a former New York City mayor joined an elite lineage that stretches all the way back to the introduction of the Edsel back in 1957. It includes the Arch Deluxe in 1996 and the Segway in 2001.
Now we have the Michael Bloomberg campaign in 2020: an incredibly expensive, incredibly promising product that was rolled out with such a sickening thud that you almost felt bad.
It wasn’t just the thud of a heavy stone being dropped on sod.
It was a bit more like a 240-pound football player hitting the turf like an industrial-sized sack of potatoes, where you wince because you can hear the bones fracturing and the tendons rupturing.
You almost felt bad for one of the most disagreeable, dour nanny-statists ever to seek the presidency, a man who easily made Ralph Nader look like a freewheeling libertarian who was the epitome of cool.
So, in case you went to bed early on Wednesday night, the Democratic debate in Las Vegas was supposed to be the official beginning of Michael Bloomberg as a Real Candidate, not just some guy running ads like Tom Steyer.
Unlike Steyer, he’d actually gotten his money’s worth out of his ads. He was third in polling. RealClearPolitics had him second in betting odds for the Democratic nomination at 33 percent — pretty solid stuff for a guy who, more or less, just got into the race.
Three hours later, Bloomberg was an extreme archetype of the Vegas loser.
In that short period of time, he’d essentially been shorn of every dollar he’d spent trying to make himself president.
If he weren’t a billionaire, he’d be spotted on the Strip with his suit rumpled and his tie undone, making a frantic phone call to a “close friend” saying he really needed a few million dollars in a hurry and don’t worry, he’s totally good for it.
For those who didn’t watch, let me set the scene: The candidates file out. They take their place on the rostrum.
Bloomberg, 78, hasn’t faced a debate in over a decade, but surely he’s been prepped.
He’s shot the commercials. He’s done a bit of ground work. He knows the opposition research and what’s coming.
He should be able to roll with the punches. Right?
First punch, uppercut by Elizabeth Warren.
Nobody quite anticipated that as the HMS Pocahontas sinks below the waves, she was determined to take as many people down with her as possible.
To open the night, she fired a warning flare directly at Bloomberg’s face.
“I want to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” the Massachusetts senator said. “And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 20, 2020
This was, quite obviously, a reference to Bloomberg’s alleged comments about women from his time in the corporate world.
When asked directly about it, Bloomberg refused to address the remarks, instead saying that his workforce these days was a great place for members of the distaff gender, which clearly obviates his alleged comments about “fat broads.”
Bloomberg behaved as a man who waded into a Democratic presidential debate without the benefit of actually having watched any of them.
Consider this explication of what was behind the legal velvet rope of the nondisclosure agreements he’d signed and ask yourself what candidate would consider it appropriate in any possible universe: “None of them accuse me of doing anything,” the mayor said, “other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”
The sound that elicited wasn’t quite a groan. It was like the sound of several thousand jaws going slack at one time.
“I hope you heard his defense. I’ve been nice to some women,” Warren responded, according to ABC News. “That just doesn’t cut it. … The mayor has to stand on his record. And what we need to know is exactly what’s lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women — dozens, who knows — to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace.”
The nondisclosure agreements became a major point of contention.
“So Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure agreements?” Warren asked.
“We have a very few nondisclosure agreements,” he said, while failing to say he would release the women from them.
“Let’s get something straight here. It’s easy. All the mayor has to do is say you are released from the nondisclosure agreement, period,” former Vice President Joe Biden said.
Candidates slam Mike Bloomberg over his decision not to release former female employees from NDAs.
“Let’s get something straight here. It’s easy. All the mayor has to do is say you are released from the nondisclosure agreement, period,” Joe Biden says. https://t.co/Glmg3ztE04
— ABC News (@ABC) February 20, 2020
This was hardly the only issue of the night, but every time he was subjected to criticism Bloomberg looked like a deer in the headlights — and, being a deer from New York City, there were an awful lot of headlights coming at him.
The former mayor’s unfortunate remarks regarding stop-and-frisk and redlining? He behaved as if he were a man halfway into transformation into a statue — still able to communicate but quickly calcifying.
On issues that weren’t flashpoints, he didn’t do much better.
He got in one good shot on Sen. Bernie Sanders as the Vermont socialist talked about employee ownership of companies: “I can’t think of a way that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get re-elected than listening to this conversation,” Bloomberg said. “This is ridiculous. We’re not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism and it just didn’t work.”
Everything else was damnably bad.
On why he hadn’t released his tax returns yet?
“I can’t go to TurboTax,” Bloomberg said. “Fortunately I make a lot of money and we do business all around the world. The number of pages will probably be in the thousands of pages.”
Even Bloomberg’s closing statement made you sort of understand why the French wanted Marie Antoinette on a tumbril headed to the guillotine.
Just before he spoke, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked people to join her at her website, giving the address.
Bloomberg: “You can join me at MikeBloomberg.com, too, if you want, but I’m not asking for any money.”
The audible reaction in the venue to that massively entitled comment was less a boo and more the sound you make when your brain isn’t quite sure you heard something that offensively tone-deaf but your ears are vigorously assuring it that yes, yes you did.
He then went on to say, even as that sound hadn’t quite petered out, that “this is a management job.”
That’s just what everyone wants in a president: a billionaire middle-manager.
This was your savior, establishment Democrats. This was your backup plan to Joe Biden
Sure, Biden was on his way out, but Bloomberg was going to save everyone from Bernie.
He had the money and he had the experience.
He came off stage looking like a vulgar apparatchik of the Democratic Party that enjoys abusing his position wherever it may be and doesn’t know how to respond when called on it.
There was also his demeanor, which is best described as a guy who absentmindedly took an Ambien instead of his multivitamin with dinner and was like a sound clip playing at two-thirds speed three hours later.
You watched in utter disbelief as he was dismantled — and did a good enough job of dismantling himself with “TurboTax” comments when other competitors weren’t doing it for him.
At turns, you felt sorry for Michael Bloomberg and started respecting Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. This isn’t a situation any right-thinking individual wants to find themselves in — and yet, I couldn’t look away.
Bottom line: Wait for the first major poll post-debate and see where Bloomberg is.
He’s not competing in Nevada, but his Super Tuesday numbers were on a meteoric rise.
If enough people see these clips, I predict his numbers could even be halved in some surveys.
Either way, I have never seen anyone on a debate stage who was, simultaneously, so unprepared for and so savaged by his competitors.
If Bloomberg isn’t finished yet, one more performance like this and he will be.
The Edsel has collectors’ value. Some people fondly remember the Arch Deluxe. The Segway has a devoted fan base and is still produced today.
Bloomberg’s campaign, unfortunately, won’t even get that kind retrospective love.
Wednesday was like watching someone shovel money into a furnace, convinced the heat it generated was somehow a worthwhile exchange.
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