(CNN)CNN Opinion commentators weigh in on the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views expressed in this commentary are solely their own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Well it’s about time.
It took, evidently, Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage for Democrats to realize that this primary can’t be a group effort and a love fest forever. There can only be one winner. To be that final candidate, they needed to take each other on, and not coyly or with flattering reassurances. To win they needed to point out their differences on record, policy, personality and values and they needed to do it decisively.
From Elizabeth Warren taking on allegations that Bloomberg made awful comments about women (he generally denies this), to Pete Buttigieg taking on Bernie Sanders’ war on capitalism, to Sanders returning fire on Pete’s donors, this is what needed to happen for this field to finally consolidate and give Democratic voters a clear frontrunner.
We’ll see ultimately who benefits the most from the knives out night. But one thing is certain: this was long overdue.
SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator and the host of “SE Cupp Unfiltered.”
Mike Bloomberg has had the most spectacular paid media run up in the history of presidential politics — nearly half a billion dollars in ubiquitous advertising that lifted him in the polls before he ever really joined the fray.
But, eventually, they had to roll out the product — and when the big night came, it was a disastrous debut.
Prodded by the moderators, virtually everyone on the stage in Wednesday’s debate took turns pounding on the billionaire and former mayor of New York. And the attacks ranged from challenges to his stop-and-frisk policies, to allegations of abusive behavior toward women in his workplace, to his cleaving in his ads to former President Barack Obama — with whom he wasn’t always close or supportive — to his past Republicanism and to general sniping about his vast wealth.
“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s open mere minutes into the debate.
“Let’s put forth someone who is actually a Democrat,” chimed in former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Warren and Buttigieg were the night’s big winners. Desperately in need of a revival, former Vice President Joe Biden found new energy, vigorously assaulting Bloomberg and frontrunner Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The New Hampshire debate champ, Amy Klobuchar, was knocked off stride early by Buttigieg and never regained her footing.
But the big loser was Bloomberg.
He was by turns peevish and defensive, complete with eye-rolling and derisive smirks. It was a lost night for the candidate who has been laying claim to be the only moderate who can defeat Sanders and topple Trump.
Bloomberg can survive this because he is speaking to more people every day through his ads than will have watched this debate. But it is only going to get harder and he is going to have to do much better in next week’s South Carolina debate — and beyond — to ride the wave of his prodigious investment.
David Axelrod, a senior CNN political commentator and host of “The Axe Files,” was senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren won the debate by going aggressively after the other candidates on the stage, including a sudden, unsolicited critique of the health care plans of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
She notably drew former Mayor Mike Bloomberg into a devastating cross-examination about non-disclosure agreements signed by former employees of Bloomberg’s financial information company, warning against “the drip, drip, drip of women saying they have been harassed.”
Warren had no choice but to take the fight to her rivals. She finished third in Iowa, despite meticulous preparation and what was described as the best field operation in the state. Days later, she placed fourth in New Hampshire, the latter an especially poor performance given the fact that southern New Hampshire shares a media market with Warren’s home state of Massachusetts.
The entrance of Bloomberg makes things even more difficult for Warren. Sanders appears to be attracting young people and left-leaning older activists, while mainstream candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden have a base of support among moderate voters. That leaves Warren without a natural base.
With the real prospect of elimination looming, Warren had to pound the other Democrats to shake loose some of their support and save her campaign. Warren called for environmental cleanup in communities of color, a strategy aimed squarely at shoring up support from the base of the party.
And after her performance, she lives to fight another day.
Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel.
This was Michael Bloomberg’s first debate on the national stage, and it showed. He disappeared for the first 30 minutes, and when the time finally came for him to answer questions on the stop and frisk policing policy during his tenure as New York mayor, and allegations of sexism at his workplace, he was wildly insufficient. He was not relatable or empathetic. At times, he sounded insensitive and offensive.
He improved vastly on more comfortable ground, such as climate change. But it was clear that the rest of the field has had much more experience in actual campaigning and debating. The question for the Bloomberg team: what to do now? Bloomberg needs to get out on the trail in an aggressive way; do every interview he can; answer every question from the media and from voters; get out there and earn the nomination just like everybody else.
Patti Solis Doyle, a CNN commentator, was an assistant to the President and senior adviser to then-first lady Hillary Clinton, was chief of staff on Clinton’s 2000 and 2006 Senate campaigns, and Clinton’s presidential campaign manager in 2007 and early 2008. She is president of Solis Strategies, a Washington-based consulting firm that specializes in serving nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations and corporations. Follow her @pattisolisdoyle.
Mike Bloomberg lost. Everyone else had their ups and downs, but at the end of the Democratic cage match, there was one clear winner: Donald Trump.
The divisive, dishonest, disgusting incumbent President could not have scripted a better reality show. For the umpteenth time, Democrats flyspecked each other’s health care plans, but where was the mention that Trump wants to cut Medicare and Medicaid?
They attacked each other over how they would pay for health care, but never mentioned that Trump is in court as we speak seeking to give insurance companies the right to discriminate against you or deny you coverage altogether if you have a preexisting condition.
Freshly impeached, Mr. Trump has never once enjoyed the support of the American people. His only hope is to drag his Democratic opponent down to his level. Tonight, the Democratic candidates seem all-in on Trump’s strategy. He may not even need Putin’s help if the Democrats keep doing his job for him.
There were tactical moments that were thrilling. Elizabeth Warren gutted Bloomberg on his non-disclosure agreements in cases of alleged sexual harassment. Pete Buttigieg coolly eviscerated the two frontrunners at once, declaring Democrats should “put forward somebody who is actually a Democrat,” not Bernie Sanders who “wants to burn this party down,” while Bloomberg “wants to buy this party out.”
Biden showed fire, Klobuchar showed grit, Bernie Sanders showed he doesn’t give a darn about releasing his medical records, despite promising to do so.
At the end of the night, the most passionate supporters of each candidate could probably find something to crow about. But for those of us who simply want to unseat Trump, this was another Democratic circular firing squad.
Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and served as a counselor to Clinton in the White House.
Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg went into this debate as a one-billion-dollar Titanic, convinced his ad deluge made him invincible. Then he met an iceberg called Elizabeth Warren. She took him to task and prosecuted him in a way I have never seen in a debate.
Worse, Bloomberg simply was not prepared. He walked into his dream scenario: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders rising, former Vice President Joe Biden falling — and everyone needing a hero to walk onto the stage. Then his dream scenario turned into a nightmare.
His answer on “stop and frisk” was awful — and a lie. The policy did not end because he discovered what was happening and “cut 95% of it out.” He loudly championed the policy throughout his mayoral administration, even though the evidence showed it did little to prevent any crime. It stopped because a court order forced the city of New York to curtail the practice.
He went on to stumble trying to disavow an idea he floated in a 2008 speech, in which he suggested that ending redlining, the discriminatory practice that targets black and brown voters, had helped cause the 2008 financial crash. He even took a gratuitous shot at people who use TurboTax, for some reason.
A lot of African Americans were willing to place some measure of hope in Bloomberg. All they wanted to see was some contrition and some professionalism. Bloomberg gave them neither. He is spending so much on ads that it may not matter. But the debate was a warning that if he wants to be the nominee — much less beat President Donald Trump — he needs to go back to work, listen to his team, then come back and do better.
Van Jones is CEO of REFORM Alliance and co-founder of #cut50, a bipartisan criminal justice initiative of the Dream Corps. He is also the author of “Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.” In 2009, Jones worked as the Green Jobs Adviser in the Obama White House.
Each of the candidates on the Nevada stage tonight were at times brilliant, compelling, sincere, effective — and they also stumbled. But mainly the Democrats’ Las Vegas debate was a total free-for-all of attacks and counter attacks. Watching it you would never know who to trust, who was ahead and who needs a different strategy. But here is the seriousness of the outcome. Sanders is in the lead. And nothing tonight has changed that dynamic.
Sanders would have you believe that all of the inequality in this country is former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s fault. It is only Bloomberg’s inexperience that prevented him from cogently asking Sanders what he has been doing in Congress for the last 35 years while this system was getting so out of whack.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was powerful, but she had one main target, Bloomberg. Same with former Vice President Joe Biden and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobochar was an effective equal opportunity attacker.
There was no clear rhetorical winner tonight. But if Warren, Biden, Buttegeig and Klobochar think that Bloomberg is their obstacle to the nomination, they aren’t doing the math. Sanders is their blockade, and they didn’t make a dent in him tonight.
Hilary Rosen, a CNN contributor, is a Democratic political strategist and managing director of SKDKnickerbocker.
Finally, this debate has revealed what I thought was probably true—these Democrats running for president really seemed to hate each other. Which makes me wonder: if they’ve all gotten on each other nerves so badly, isn’t it likely they’ve gotten on the voters’ nerves, too?
Amy Klobuchar took a two-by-four to Pete Buttigieg. Pete hammered Klobuchar and Senator Bernie Sanders. Elizabeth Warren did her best Michael Scott “Boom Roasted!” impression at one point, doling out insults like a skilled Vegas blackjack dealer tosses cards. Warren eviscerated Mike Bloomberg, who really shouldn’t have come. It was a free-for-all that must’ve had Trump campaign advisers laughing out loud with each increasingly acerbic barb.
The prolonged squabbles over who can best demonize and punish the successful in America is exactly the conversation Trump needs as he tries to rekindle a relationship with suburban voters who moved away from the GOP in 2018. Sure, they might not like some of Trump’s antics but the Democrats seem to think the people who get up and go to work every day, pay their taxes, and follow the rules are the problem in America.
And Trump will use that against the eventual nominee like a battering ram. Democrats are describing an American economy that doesn’t exist in reality for suburban voters, who must be thinking: Democrats are promising to take what I’ve worked hard for away from me and give it to someone else.
The conversation about energy jobs in Pennsylvania should have been absolutely sobering for Democrats realizing that Sanders has pulled the party so far to the left that many blue collar workers in the Midwest would be voting to put themselves out of work if they support most of these candidacies.
As for who “won” this debate, aside from Trump? Nobody laid a glove on Sanders, and the question about who should be the nominee if no candidate has enough delegates on the first ballot was telling. Everyone—except Bernie—signaled their willingness to allow the convention to take it away from the pledged delegate leader on the second ballot when the “super delegates” get involved. If that happens to Sanders in Milwaukee, Trump will be reelected easily as the Sanders faction revolts and either stays home or casts protest votes for Trump or a minor candidate.
Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.
Bloomberg bombed, Warren wowed, and Sanders sailed along on his frontrunner status at the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. Billionaire businessman and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg suffered a series of self-inflicted wounds, failing to come up with convincing responses to past sexual harassment allegations, his status as a billionaire candidate, and stop and frisk policing used during his tenure as mayor.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had her best debate to date, keeping Bloomberg on the ropes most of the night, calling him an “arrogant billionaire.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders turned a direct question about a negative poll into a positive: two-thirds of all voters said they were uncomfortable with a socialist candidate for president, one of the moderators noted. He parried: “Who was winning?” Him, of course.
Former Vice President Joe Biden seemed to fade into the woodwork and didn’t have a stand-out moment. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg spent too much time attacking each other to gain any ground.
Aside from the array of issues candidates wanted to attack Bloomberg on, there clearly is a larger frustration — his opponents believe he is trying to buy the presidency and ignore early states.
I’d imagine the Bloomberg camp is hoping that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” If things don’t change, his shadow campaign will be nothing more than a very expensive vanity project.
Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator, NPR contributor, former resident fellow at Harvard University and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President.
This could have been Michael Bloomberg’s night. But instead it was his nightmare. Viewers were anxious for a first look at the billionaire former mayor of New York. And to meet or exceed them, Bloomberg had to do three things. Sadly for him, he failed at all three.
First, he had to establish a stage presence. But throughout the debate, Bloomberg seemed disengaged and withdrawn — uncomfortable and emotionless. His performance improved a bit later during the debate. But for the most part, he seemed unable to project a vibrant persona, let alone charisma. And for a tough businessman, he seemed strangely hesitant, reserved and poorly equipped to push back hard on his opponents’ charges of sexism, racism and capitalism.
Second, he failed to make the case for electability Bloomberg seemed to make little of his potentially strongest talking point — his capacity to beat President Donald Trump. This should have been his single most effective narrative, and he should have turned at least part of every question to that end. In the end, he remained a cardboard figure seemingly unable to outline what he actually stands for.
Third, he could not defend his most controversial policies. On stop and frisk, Bloomberg didn’t offer anything remotely resembling a sincere apology as much as an explanation for why it didn’t work. But the real damage which may well prove fatal to Bloomberg’s campaign was his response to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s question: would he free women who had settled harassment or discrimination suits from their non-disclosure agreements so their accounts might be heard? Bloomberg refused, stumbled and fumbled trying to lawyer his