Sky News Australia / YouTube Trump is the model for Michael 1582216281.jpg...
Sky News Australia / YouTube

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg started off Wednesday night’s Democratic primary debate on the message he had clearly prepped for: with an attack on Sen. Bernie Sanders and his Medicare for All plan, and the claim that Mike Bloomberg is the guy who can beat Donald Trump. From there, largely but not exclusively thanks to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it got a lot harder for Bloomberg to stay on message.

Bloomberg wound up on the defensive on his own record on sexual harassment; his record of support (or not) for Obamacare and stop and frisk; his tax returns; and his massive fortune. And for the most part, it didn’t go well for him.

The two major things Bloomberg absolutely had to know he would have to answer for were stop and frisk and sexual harassment claims against himself or his company, yet he didn’t handle either well.

On stop and frisk, Bloomberg started by acknowledging, “if I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing that I’m really worried about, embarrassed about, was how it turned out with stop and frisk.” He was just trying to combat a high murder rate, he insisted, but “it got out of control.” What Bloomberg didn’t do in his answer, though, no matter how apologetic he was on the surface, was directly acknowledge the massive racial disparities involved in stop and frisk or his own grossly racist comments about it. And his story about how stop and frisk was reined in—his claim that he made the decision to stop—remains self-serving and inaccurate.

Similarly, his explanation for his earlier comments about the end of redlining causing the 2008 financial collapse failed to actually account for what he had said. He begrudgingly kinda sorta attributed the collapse to the financial industry’s abuses, then quickly changed the topic to “mentoring programs for young businesspeople so they can learn how to start a business,” which was … not the question.

On sexual harassment, Bloomberg was evasive and dismissive as Warren, joined by Biden, pressed him for answers. His initial defense was, as Warren characterized it, “I’ve been nice to some women,” which, she said, “just doesn’t cut it.” Warren pressed Bloomberg to say how many former employees were bound by nondisclosure agreements. He evaded on the number and claimed, “None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.” But since he repeatedly refused to release women from those NDAs, we only have his word for that—even if you believe that jokes can’t harm.

Bloomberg repeatedly claimed that releasing people from NDAs would somehow be a disservice to the people currently bound by them “because [the NDAs] were made consensually and they have every right to expect that they will stay private.” Except that if he releases people, it can be up to them whether and how to speak.

But those weren’t the only issues where Bloomberg didn’t fare particularly well.

His insistence that he deserves his massive $60 billion fortune because “I worked very hard for it. And I’m giving it away” was tone-deaf in the extreme. Plenty of people work very hard and struggle to make ends meet, and Bloomberg does not seem to know that.

When former Vice President Joe Biden charged that Bloomberg had called Obamacare a “disgrace,” Bloomberg insisted that he had in fact defended it. But he did call it a disgrace, and the pro-Obamacare op-ed that Bloomberg claimed to have written, “I think at that time,” actually seems to have come in 2017. So while Bloomberg at least semi-held his own in that exchange, not getting overtly defensive or dragged into a pissy exchange, the facts undermine him there.

As to when or whether he’ll release his tax returns, Bloomberg perhaps inadvertently echoed Trump’s excuses: “Unfortunately or fortunately,” he said, “I make a lot of money, and we do business all around the world. And we are preparing it. The number of pages will probably be in the thousands of pages.” It’s just so complicated and difficult for us billionaires! The pathetic thing here is that Bloomberg should have led with what came next: “I put out my tax return every year for 12 years in City Hall. We will put out this one.” Dude, free advice: Lead with the history of having done what you’re being asked to do, not with the “Have I mentioned how much money I have?” that makes you sound like Trump.

Bloomberg did seem to get under Sanders’ skin when he said, “What a wonderful country we have. The best known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” Sanders became uncharacteristically defensive. And in a couple of other exchanges, neither Bloomberg nor Sanders came out on top. But all in all, in substance and style, Bloomberg had an abysmal debate.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.



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