The attack on Michael Bloomberg in his first debate as a Democratic presidential candidate was fast and furious Wednesday night. I cannot remember seeing anything quite as intense and unrelenting in a TV debate as the pounding he took.
Front-runner Bernie Sanders immediately positioned Bloomberg as representative of the multibillionaires most of the Democratic candidates on the stage have been railing about in all their previous debates.
The fast flurry of jabs from Sanders was quickly followed by a series of rib-rocking body blows from Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against, a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg," she said with her first words.
“Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop and frisk,” she added. “I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is. But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
That’s the characterization of Bloomberg that the one-two punch of Sanders and Warren so firmly established in the opening round: Bloomberg is just another version of Donald Trump. He doesn’t belong here. In fact, he’s a threat to our Democratic ideals. It’s people like him who are responsible for the economic uncertainty and pain your family is feeling. Elect him and you will be voting against the struggles of women and people of color.
And Bloomberg’s predominant pose during the debate of looking bored, perhaps in a failed attempt to seem above the fray, was not a good look at all.
For all his years as mayor of the most media-saturated city in the world, and all the high-priced consultants he is supposed to have on his campaign, Bloomberg does not seem to have spent much time or thought on his TV persona and how it might be perceived by the kinds of viewers it takes to win Democratic votes.
He appeared arrogant. In TV terms, he is the CEO who decides it’s time to cut staff to make the company look better to Wall Street. I can’t remember one second of anything resembling a genuine smile on his face all night. Even Sanders smiled a couple of times when he wasn’t yelling about the greed of billionaires like Bloomberg.
There was no place to hide on that stage Wednesday night for the former mayor of New York.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar echoed the themes of Sanders and Warren in saying: “I think we need something different from Donald Trump. I don’t think we look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House.”
She also ripped him for the arrogance of what she described as a memo from his campaign saying she and two other candidates should step aside to create a path for him to the nomination.
She did not have to use the term “white, male privilege.” All viewers had to do was look Bloomberg’s way when the camera cut to him. And he never defended himself against the allegation.
But Warren, who has been losing ground to Sanders, Klobuchar and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, wasn’t through with the newcomer standing next to her on the debate stage.
Bloomberg’s worst stretch of the night came when she tore into him for his past record with female employees and nondisclosure agreements.
Bloomberg defended himself by saying he put women in top positions in his company and paid them the same salary as men.
"I hope you heard what his defense was," Warren said. “I’ve been nice to some women.”
The most powerful #MeToo moment came when she asked Bloomberg whether he would release women who signed nondisclosure agreements when they left his company. She said voters needed to know what was “lurking out there” that might come out as a Trump-like “drip, drip, drip” of allegations against him.
Bloomberg said he would not release them, even after former Vice President Joe Biden jumped in and said, “All the mayor has to say is, ‘You’re released from the nondisclosure agreements.'”
It is hard to think Bloomberg won any new female voters by saying things like, “Maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”
His bottom line on the matter: “I said we’re not going to end those agreements, because they were made consensually.”
Bad as his first debate was, given Bloomberg’s money, he will likely be back for more.
So, here’s a TV tip, Mr. Mayor: Try not to look so bored in the next one as you are getting your brains beat out.
David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @davidzurawik.