A Contrarian Take on Bloomberg’s Debate

About 5 weeks ago, I posted these few comments on the Democratic Debate that happened before the one before last night. My predictions that Warren would lose voter share to Sanders, that Buttigieg appeared to be outperforming Biden, and that Bloomberg and Yang should be included on the debate stage have all since come to fruition. Other takes such as that the network should start the debate an hour earlier and that Bernie should announce Tulsi as his running mate have not come true. Well, not yet anyway.

Nonetheless, I enjoy following politics despite the frustration that it often produces. I like to consider how I think the future will unfold based on the latest state of play, as I do with most everything that I pay attention to in life. My best prediction of this election thus far came on October 23rd when I predicted by Judge Judy’s seemingly random endorsement that Mike Bloomberg would be a top 3 front-runner for President.

Bloomberg officially announced his candidacy a month and a day later on November 24th and he is now widely recognized as a top 2-3 contender with as good a shot to win as anybody.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s debate last night has been considered an epic failure by virtually everyone I have seen comment on it, from CNN to Fox News and from the general Twitterverse to its most powerful and controversial tweeter, @realDonaldTrump. The words “crushed”, “pummeled”, “disastrous”, and even “worst in the history of debates” have been uttered by a host of people who seem to believe that Bloomberg could not have done worse last night. I do not very much like it when everyone agrees and fails to consider an opposite perspective so naturally I am going to take the contrarian view that this debate will in fact serve to help Bloomberg’s chances of winning the nomination/presidency. To be clear, I am not arguing that he will necessarily win either (although I do believe he has the best chance of becoming our next president besides Trump) but rather, my argument is simply that last night’s debate will prove to be a net positive for Bloomberg, and that it will in fact help his overall chances. This would be evidenced by his forward performance in comparison with current expectations which are broadly that he will fail to win the Democratic nomination, let alone the presidency.

First, there is a famous quote that is wrongly attributed to Ghandi which says, “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” That is exactly how it went for Trump. That is sort of how things are going for Bernie, but not nearly as much as it is for Bloomberg. Heading into last night’s debate, most of the political experts as well as the results of the first two states that voted (though not necessarily representative of the country) have favored Bernie to win the Democratic nomination, at least in term of having the most total delegates prior to the convention at which point it is most likely that still none of the Democratic Candidates will have a majority to clinch nomination. Despite Bernie being the overwhelmingly clear favorite at this point, the candidates last night either did not believe that or did not at all act like it. As a competitor in a game in which there will be only one winner, it would seem obvious that everyone should fight to take down the leader. That is why it was strange that hardly anyone fought Bernie at all last night, but everyone fought Bloomberg. A far worse outcome for Bloomberg in last night’s debate in my opinion would have been if he showed up to his first debate and was a complete non-factor. If all of the other candidates treated Bloomberg like Steyer (no offense to the less wealthy billionaire), I think it would have raised a lot more red flags for Bloomberg’s supporters and potential future supporters. Instead, the divided field of candidates which has democrat voters struggling to find a horse they believe in enough to unite behind in a race against Trump decided to attack the horse that has gained surprisingly (to most) strong momentum thus far on a narrative that is more than anything dependent on an argument that he is the most capable of beating Trump in the upcoming election. It seemed to me that the other candidates’ apparent fear of Bloomberg which drove them to attack him incomparably more than Bernie, who is literally winning, established Bloomberg as the leader of the field.

Second, the vast majority of attacks on Bloomberg were focused on two subjects and they were not raised only by the candidates themselves. The moderators’ first two questions directed to Bloomberg were about the controversial “stop and frisk” program he instituted as Mayor of New York and about the accusations that women have made about certain things that he has said in the workplace. The candidates honed in hard on these issues and basically accused Bloomberg of being a racist and a sexist. His defenses in response to these accusations may not have been strong or even satisfactory according to most, but the accusations themselves were not new and as such I do not envision them changing the opinions of too many people who supported Bloomberg heading into last night’s debate or too many people who were and would still be open to moving their support over to his campaign. The attacks on Bloomberg rarely focused on policy or challenged his important and most critical claims that he is the best suited to beat Trump and the most qualified to run the country. If the attacks remain limited to calling him a racist and a sexist, I think there is a group people who have already dismissed him because of those accusations and there is a larger group of people who have not and I do not envision very many people on either side changing their minds in the absence of new and material evidence that paints a worse picture of his character than has already been fairly or unfairly painted.

Third and finally, before last night’s debate, Bloomberg’s chances of picking up more than exactly zero delegates in the Nevada caucuses this weekend were zero percent, given that he will not be on the ballot until Super Tuesday on March 3rd. Regardless of his performance last night, his chances of picking up a delegate or more in Nevada were always going to be zero, so besides a possible non-results based reversal of momentum, he had nothing to lose between now and next Tuesday’s debate which is still a few days before the final primary in South Carolina where he will still be ineligible to win any delegates. The next debate will also be a solid week before Super Tuesday when it will be absolutely critical for him to perform well in aggregate with the 14 states and 1 US territory that will be casting their votes. In high school, someone told me that in the eyes of college admissions offices, applicants who improved their high school grades from low B’s to high A’s look as if not more impressive compared to those who had high A’s the whole way through. Whether this is true or not is not necessarily important, but I do believe that people like to get on board with things that appear to be on an upwards trajectory, whether they are students with improving academics, companies with improving financials, or candidates with improving debate performances. In last night’s debate, which has less than half of the days (6) until the next one compared with any other Democratic Debate that has been held or is on the schedule, Bloomberg took the heat, and in the media’s mind, he got smoked. The reviews have been brutal, and you can join the masses and view that as a big negative but I see a golden opportunity that would not have been possible without last night’s performance. The golden opportunity is for Bloomberg to go out on the debate stage next Tuesday in South Carolina and blow everyone away with a strong and now unexpected performance. If he had 14 points to allocate on these two debates to be rated out of ten, I would have used 5 last night and 9 next Tuesday, and that is what I think he has an amazing opportunity to do if he can pull it off. Bloomberg has been a long shot from the beginning, just like our current president was, but his momentum has grown and grown in the polls and there will be very few if any conducted between this debate and the next one to show a reversal in that momentum, if there in fact has been one. A very strong performance following what was considered a very weak one may be just what this long shot needs to have a real shot to win the nomination and the presidency. One thing is for sure. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.