Billionaire presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has qualified for the Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, setting the stage for a good old-fashioned fur-flying, eye-gouging, leg-breaking donnybrook that will be can’t-miss TV.
Bernie Sanders, especially, is locked and loaded and ready to stick it to Bloomberg, whom several candidates believe has gotten something of a free ride from the press. And Sanders and his supporters, who are seeing conspiracies under every rock and behind every tree, already think the Democratic National Committee has rigged the criteria for debate qualifications to favor Bloomberg.
The Democratic National Committee recently changed its rules for how a candidate qualifies for the debate, opening the door for Bloomberg to be on stage and drawing the ire of some candidates who dropped out of the race for failing to make prior stages. The candidates were previously required to receive a certain number of campaign contributions to qualify, but Bloomberg, who is worth an estimated $60 billion, is not taking donations.
So, yeah — they rigged it. But no one else seems to be able to stop the socialist from Vermont and his lemming-like followers who are prepared to take the entire Democratic Party over a cliff to perdition.
As for the press going easy on Bloomberg, that may have been true when the former mayor of New York City was an asterisk in the polls. But the latest surveys show a surprising strength for Mini Mike. The latest Marist poll has Bloomberg at 19% nationally and the press has pounced on every crazy past utterance from the candidate, including his confusing apology for his defense of “stop and frisk,” where he actually apologized for lowering the crime rate — if not a first in American political history, certainly a novelty. His past remarks about everything from fingerprinting food stamp recipients to his daring to praise pretty women for their looks are now fair game and the press is gleefully pouncing.
This may be Bloomberg’s Achilles heel: a thin skin that could make him appear irritable and cross when he’s confronted with controversy.
The former New York City mayor’s irritability with questions he deems unwarranted and controversies he feels he has already put to bed could undermine his debut on the debate stage, where Americans will be introduced to the man behind the ubiquitous campaign ads.
His rivals, who have been piling on in recent days, will try to rattle him by attacking his record, campaign aides have told POLITICO. His own team worries that an unsteady showing alongside practiced candidates could stall his momentum and swallow his gains.
“We are expecting that he is going to have a lot of attention on him — he’s going to be attacked,” a Bloomberg official told POLITICO, noting that it would be his first debate since 2009. The official, who declined to speak on the record, pointed to the other candidates who’ve had months of practice in eight debates and numerous forums and “have gotten better as it’s gone on.”
Sanders has been testing attack lines for a couple of weeks and will bring out the long knives for the debate. Bernie’s arrogance may very well get under Bloomberg’s skin. And why not? He gets under ours.
As Biden, Warren, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg try to tear Sanders down, Sanders will largely ignore them and save his most potent ammunition for Bloomberg. He knows that the billionaire is his only serious challenger left and if he can expose him as a short-tempered rich guy, all the better.