Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Christian Cultural Center on November 17, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Yana Paskova/Getty Images
  • Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has shot up into the top-tier of the 2020 race by using his $64 billion (R963 billion) fortune to blanket the airwaves with television ads and build up an enviable campaign operation.
  • Bloomberg crumbled under pressure amid scrutiny over his controversial record on policing in New York and his company's history of using non-disclosure agreements in cases where female employees alleged harassment and discrimination.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren in particular bore into Bloomberg with razor-sharp attacks on his company's reported treatment of women, saying, "Democrats take a huge risk if we substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."
  • The debate showed how money in politics - even Bloomberg's billions - has diminishing returns in terms of how much it can make up for a candidate's weaknesses.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.   

Democrats didn't waste any time attacking former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on multiple aspects of his political record and campaign at Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada - and his complete collapse under scrutiny revealed how his giant fortune can only bolster his campaign so far.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, all turned their fire on Bloomberg at the Paris Theater during the debate, co-hosted by MSNBC and The Nevada Independent.

After initially ruling out a presidential run in March of 2019, Bloomberg jumped into the race at the last minute in November of that year.

With a $64 billion (R963 billion) fortune to spend on television ads and building an unparalleled field presence in key states, Bloomberg is now at third place nationally at 16% in both Real Clear Politics' and FiveThirtyEight's polling averages.

Since Bloomberg is skipping the first four primary contests altogether and did not qualify for any previous debates, Wednesday night was the first time Bloomberg directly faced any of his 2020 Democratic rivals, and the first time he appeared on a debate stage of any kind since 2009.

In recent days and weeks as Bloomberg's multi-billion-dollar campaign operation have blanketed the airwaves and propelled him into double-digits in the polls with a real shot of winning delegates to the national convention, his rivals have honed in on Bloomberg's many weaknesses.

As Bloomberg was pelted with relentless attacks over his reported insensitive remarks about women, for donating to Republican political candidates, and New York City's controversial policing practices, he failed at every turn to mount a strong or even coherent defense of himself and his record.

Bloomberg melted under the scrutiny when pressed over his company's treatment of women

Within the first five minutes, Warren came out of the gate swinging against Bloomberg, saying, "Democrats take a huge risk if we substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."

"I wanna talk about who we're running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. And no I'm not talking about Donald Trump, I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg," Warren said, referring to Bloomberg's history of making crude and demeaning remarks.

Later, Bloomberg deflected from the topic completely when MSNBC anchor and chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson pressed him on the allegations of making inappropriate remarks to female employees, many of which were compiled in a booklet in the 1990s published by Business Insider last week.

Instead of addressing his own behaviour, Bloomberg re-hashed prepared talking points about how his company takes claims of harassment seriously and cultivates a positive and empowering work environment for women.

But Bloomberg completely melted down under pressure when Warren and Biden pressed him on his company Bloomberg LP's use of non-disclosure agreements in cases where female employees alleged discrimination or harassment at the company, as Business Insider has reported.

Bloomberg stumbled and completely collapsed under direct cross-examination from Warren, failing to defend himself whatsoever or make a compelling case

"Listen to what his defense was: 'I've been nice to some women.' That doesn't cut it. The mayor has to stand on his record and we need to know what's lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women, dozens, who knows, to sign non-disclosure agreements for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace," Warren said before asking if Bloomberg would release the women from their NDAs.

Bloomberg's defense was none of the women accused him personally of doing anything except "maybe I didn't like a joke I told," drawing grimaces and groans from the audience. "These were agreements between two parties who wanted to keep it quiet and that's up to them. They signed those agreements and we'll live with it."

Warren wasn't satisfied, continuing to press him.

"I just want to be clear, some is how many? And you say they signed them, if they wish now speak out and tell their side of the story about what they've alleged, you're releasing them now on television to do that, that's okay with you?" she responded.

Bloomberg continued to deflect from and evade the nature of Warren's question as to whether women who wanted to speak out about their experiences could do so, maintaining that all NDAs signed by his employees were between two parties who wanted to keep the situation out of the public eye.

"This is not just a question about the mayor's character, this is also a question about electability. We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows many non-disclosure agreements and the drip-drip-drip of women who say they have been harassed or discriminated against, that's not what we do as Democrats," Warren shot back.

Bloomberg admitted one of the signature policies of his time as mayor was a failure

Instead of taking the opportunity to tout some of his most successful initiatives as mayor, Bloomberg was attacked and spent an awkward few minutes admitting failure and apologising for the program.

The city's use of stop-and-frisk policing, a regime of policing in which officers had free reign to detain and search civilians who were not under arrest without a warrant.

Police stops not only soared 600% between 2002 and 2011, but stop-and-frisk also disproportionately targeted black and Latino men, with an estimated 86% to 90% of those stopped not charged with any criminal offenses during Bloomberg's administration, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

In 2013, a federal judge ruled that New York's application of stop and frisk policing amounted to a "policy of indirect racial profiling" in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the constitution, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

Warren immediately seized on Bloomberg's phrasing, saying, "When the mayor apologises, listen very closely to his apology. The language he used isn't about stop-and-risk, it's about how it turned out. This isn't about how it turned out, this is about what it was designed to do. It targeted black and brown men from the beginning."

Bloomberg also received devastating attacks on his electability against Trump

The main focus of Bloomberg's ads so far has been arguing that given his business and executive experience, he is better suited than anyone else in the field to take on Trump. But over the course of the debate, Bloomberg's opponents dismantled those arguments one by one, leaving Bloomberg with little to stand on.

"In order to beat Donald Trump, we're gonna need the largest voter turnout in history. Mr. Bloomberg had policies in NYC of stop and frisk, which went after African American and Latino people in an outrageous way," Sanders said right at the outset of the debate. "That is not a way you're going to grow voter turnout."

Aside from his record on racial issues, Buttigieg argued that Bloomberg's status as a billionaire and controversial history was divisive and polarising enough to cost Democrats the nomination.

"Democrats could wake up on Super Tuesday and be left with Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg, the two most polarising figures on this stage," Buttigieg said. "We shouldn't have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and one candidate who wants to buy this party out."

Warren, one of the nation's leading bankruptcy and consumer finance experts, has forcefully denounced Bloomberg over resurfaced remarks in which he blamed the 2008 financial crisis on financial institutions no longer relying on "redlining," or discriminating against African-Americans in their lending practices and called him "an egomaniac billionaire" in a subsequent tweet.

Warren and other candidates on stage drew direct parallels between Bloomberg and Trump, even further undermining Bloomberg's argument that he poses a perfect contrast to Trump.

"Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk," she said at the debate, directly attacking Bloomberg's claim that he is the most likely to beat Trump.

And Klobuchar said, "I don't think you look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House."

Biden took a dig at Bloomberg's mayoral track record, saying, "He has not managed his city very well when he was there...he had stop and frisk."

Bloomberg has rocketed himself to the top tier of the Democratic field with his astronomical ad-spending and by strategically targeted Super Tuesday states while the other candidates fight over the early states.

But ultimately, money in politics - even Bloomberg's billions - has diminishing returns in terms of how much it can make up for a candidate's weaknesses.

And the results of Wednesday's debate put into doubt how much money can make up for candidate like Bloomberg failing at every turn to answer straightforward, tough questions about his own record from people within his own party - to say nothing of an opponent like Trump.

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