The Nevada Debate

Ken AshfordDemocrats, Election 2020Leave a Comment

The remaining Democrats took to the Las Vegas stage last night to act out their murder-suicide pact. Everyone knew was at stake, and it showed. Here are some takeaways:

1. Elizabeth Warren won, and won big. It wasn’t even close. THIS was the Warren that so many of us love and support, and it’s the Warren that has been systematically erased by the political media. She opened the debate by eviscerating Mike Bloomberg:

Then she refused to let up, leading to one of the all-time great debate moments—her utter destruction of Bloomberg on myriad nondisclosure agreements quieting women who have sued him or his company for sexual misconduct. 

Absolutely brutal. But it wasn’t just Bloomberg on the receiving end of her sharp, piercing wit—it was pretty much everyone. Check out how she took out everyone’s healthcare plan in one fell swoop, leaving the rest of the field in one disjointed, noisy, muddled mess. 

It was a master class in debating. Just the way she manhandled Bloomberg was a sneak peek into what she’d do to Trump in an October debate—understanding full well that debates don’t decide shit (Hillary Clinton handily won hers). 

Of major consequence, Warren eagerly embraced the “capitalist” label with gusto. She’s ceded the left-left to Bernie Sanders. By creating distance from him, she presented herself as a viable option not just for former Warren supporters who have defected to Sanders, but also for supporters of the other candidates potentially looking for a new home. Bloomberg is so clearly out of his depth that it’s hard to see him retaining what support he has, much less growing it. Joe Biden is a sad figure on the stage. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar had their moments, but they shrank in stature—their hatred for each other was palpable, and did nothing to make either look like presidential material. 

So it’s a smart play. It’s the only play for a campaign that has lost the Battle of the Left; this was the only other option. That said, if liberal Warren were to somehow pull off the feat of becoming the center of our party, that would be an incredible accomplishment. Don’t worry: I’m not expecting it, but a person can dream, right?

In any event, she sealed the deal for me, at least as far as the primaries go,

2. Mike Bloomberg was so bad, it’s hard to understate how bad he was. What the hell was that out there? Billionaires aren’t used to being told they’re wrong, as everyone is always angling for their cash. So … is that why no one bothered to do any debate prep with him? It’s not as if he’s busy raising money or meeting voters or engaging in the trappings of a normal presidential campaign. Doing voice-overs for TV ads can’t take that much time. So why was he so obviously unprepared for questions? Even his clumsy attempts to label Sanders a “communist” were buffoonish and cartoonish. He stumbled and stuttered through his answers. Heck, in that NDA sequence above, he kept responding to Warren’s relentless attacks, robotically repeating the line about “consensual” NDAs, instead of brushing off and pivoting. 

Aside from debate performance, however, Bloomberg simply underscored how wrong he was for a Democratic Party primary. Asked if he was worth his $63 BILLION, he said yes, because “he worked hard.” Coal miners work hard. Single mothers juggling multiple jobs work hard. But MIKE FUCKING BLOOMBERG worked $63 BILLION TIMES BETTER. He was taking a page out of the Donald Trump playbook, bragging about how successful he was and how much money he had, and oh, no, he couldn’t release his tax returns because they were so complicated and all his army of lawyers and accountants couldn’t possibly gather the relevant information in the 10 weeks he’d been in the race, so they’d have to be released at some undetermined “later” time. What a freakin’ joke. 

In addition, New Yorkers have long known what an a-hole Bloomberg is. But he did a great job of showing his inability to handle criticism (from a woman!) in this one simple moment: 

He really is an asshole.  

The conventional wisdom (which I shared) was that the DNC had helped Bloomberg by changing the rules to let him into the debate. The conventional wisdom was so wrong, wrong, wrong. 

3. Bernie Sanders wins the Battle of the Left. Bloomberg’s inclusion didn’t just take pressure off Sanders as the front-runner in the race—it also offered him an easy foil to beat up on. And they took shots at each other the entire night. That doesn’t mean he was unscathed—other candidates took their shots here and there—but there was no concerted attack in the way that Bloomberg faced withering fire.  

But the bigger takeaway is that Warren ceded the left-left to him, no longer trying to out-liberal the self-professed socialist. She’s a capitalist who is fighting to save capitalism from itself. Bernie is the undisputed King of the Left, as everyone onstage reminded the audience. His support should remain undiminished heading into the next round of contests, and, given current polling, absent an unexpected consolidation to Bernie’s right, that’s enough for him to pile on the delegates. 

Meanwhile, this Bernie moment was FIRE. 

4. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar hate each other with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Why did these two go at each other the entire evening? Granted, they’re going after the same supporters, but that’s not a lot of supporters. If their play was to consolidate the anti-Bernie center, spending time on personal squabbles wasn’t going to get it done. 

5. Was Joe Biden at the debate? I forget. Oh, wait, he was there! And offered up this gem of an exchange, asking Warren if she’d ever done anything. Her answer to a stupefied Biden? “The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.” 

So after writing all that, I wondered if I was being unfair to Biden. So I looked it up: 


Okay, I didn’t imagine it. Also, kudos to Warren and Klobuchar for coming first and second in speaking time! Two women leading that stat might be a historic first. 

6. I didn’t realize Steyer hadn’t made the debate. That was refreshing. 

7. If Warren benefits, it may be too late for an upside in Nevada. Even if Warren receives a debate bump from her barnstorming performance, it may not matter as much in Nevada. “More than 36,000 Nevadans opted to vote early in the first three days of Nevada’s Democratic caucus—the first time that the unique early voting option has been available in a contest of presidential preferences,” reported The Nevada Independent. ”Turnout levels in four days of early voting alone were not available at press time, but could amount to well over half of the total turnout in the party’s one-day, 2016 caucus, when 84,000 people participated.” That means that potentially half of potential candidate-switchers have already locked in their votes. 

That said, the political punditry has already priced in a strong Sanders victory in Nevada. All Warren needs is a strong second-place showing to declare herself the Comeback Kid, a la Bill Clinton in 1992, and any separation from the non-Bernie candidate field may prove immeasurably helpful. After that, it’s South Carolina (where Joe Biden will make his final stand), and then off to the Super Tuesday delegate-a-palooza. 

8. Every Democrat who gave or sold their endorsement to Bloomberg should be asked if they are sticking to that endorsementHere’s the list. Whatever the reason people endorsed him—either because he’s funded their efforts over the years, or that they really thought he was the most “electable” of our field, here’s a chance to reconsider, given last night’s performance. Not even Bloomberg HQ can look at what happened and think, “Yeah, he’s got it.” The battle for the presidency isn’t a Coke vs. Pepsi air war. Substance and energy and competence and basic humanity all matter, and Bloomberg brings none of that to the table. No, we just get that he’s worth $63 BILLION or whatever because he “worked hard.” 

It’s obvious, obvious, obvious that his billions haven’t bought him the ability to be a viable candidate. The big-money people are realizing this now as well.

Literally every other candidate on that stage would be a better endorsement option.