vision 2020

In Second Debate, Bloomberg Was Still a Man in a Billionaire’s Bubble

He saw you drinking that big soda. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

After an abysmal performance in his first debate appearance in Las Vegas last week (featuring a particularly forceful pummeling by Elizabeth Warren), Michael Bloomberg assembled his expensive brain trust of advisers and repaired to his tent to make sure he would better prepared for the sequel in South Carolina, as the Wall Street Journal reported:

Mr. Bloomberg attended a campaign event in Utah the morning after Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas but has since held no public events, spending his time once again preparing for questions he had already studied for — and yet stumbled through in the last gathering. He is also preparing to attack front-runner Bernie Sanders directly, hoping to go on the offensive in the coming debate.

He was just rusty, you see. But he’d turn it all around in Charleston:

Ahead of Tuesday’s debate, Mr. Bloomberg’s team projected confidence to top supporters — some of whom were unnerved by his performance on Feb. 19 — telling them he will be better prepared and more comfortable on stage for round two, according to people familiar with the conversations, who have stressed it was his first time on a debate stage since 2009.

Well, Bloomberg was indeed better in Charleston — but was still awful.

He got into another tilt-a-whirl with Warren over women he employed being forced to sign nondisclosure agreements that mostly just made him look like another old man exasperated by Me Too (saying “enough is never enough” with Warren’s demands). He also had little to say in response to Warren’s litany of Republicans senators — including South Carolina’s own Lindsey Graham — whose campaigns he had bankrolled.

In another leftover dispute from the first debate, Bloomberg apologized again for deploying stop and frisk policies as mayor of New York, and then fouled that up by explaining that he had consulted black leaders on how to “position himself” on such issues, making himself look as cynical and mercenary as one might fear.

Perhaps the most awkward moment was in the middle of debate when he appeared to remember a self-deprecating joke he was supposed to deliver early on:

In the middle of responding to another criticism from Elizabeth Warren, Bloomberg wryly remarked, “I really am surprised that all of these, my fellow … contestants up here I guess would be the right word for it, given nobody pays attention to the clock, I’m surprised they show up because I would’ve thought after I did such a good job in beating him last week that they’d be a little afraid to do that.”

Yuk yuk.

A bit later, when asked about whether his nutritional policies for New York should be imposed nationally, the former mayor attempted another joke to explain his support for local flexibility:

“I think what’s right for New York City isn’t necessarily right for all the other cities, otherwise you’d have the Naked Cowboy in every city, so let’s get serious here,” Bloomberg joked.

The wisecrack was met with silence from the audience, as the Naked Cowboy is a figure primarily known by New Yorkers.

The Naked Cowboy is a street performer who sings in New York City’s Times Square, wearing only cowboy boots, white briefs, a cowboy hat, and a guitar.

Two big planned jokes, two moments when you could hear crickets:

For dessert, when challenged on his suggestion that Chinese President Xi Jinping isn’t a dictator, he explained that Xi was strictly accountable to “members of the party politburo.” Now that’s no dictator! Sanders quickly mocked him for it.

Speaking of Sanders, if Bloomberg did anything to redeem his pledge to tear down Bernie, I missed it. Indeed, on one issue, U.S.–Israeli relations, where Sanders and the former mayor spoke back to back, Bloomberg largely agreed with Bernie, which isn’t what his Twitter account was saying:

It’s appropriate that when Bloomberg got the luxury of several extra minutes to think of an answer to a final question calling for a personal memo, after other candidates quoted the Gospels and Nelson Mandela, Bloomberg seemed to be quoting himself. The second debate showed a man still living in a billionaire’s bubble when it comes to Democratic retail politics. The good thing for him is that beginning on Super Tuesday, his checkbook can do the talking for him, and every utterance in one of his ubiquitous ads can be focus-grouped and edited.

That seems to work better for him.

In Second Debate, Bloomberg Still in a Billionaire’s Bubble