Feb 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Bloomberg's debate backfire could seal it for Bernie

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Mike Bloomberg got into the 2020 race to stop Bernie Sanders and socialism. If he doesn't bounce back from this week's debate, he may seal the deal for both.

Why it matters: Bloomberg’s own campaign has warned that Sanders could lock up the nomination in mere weeks, thanks to rivals splitting the opposition vote. But Bloomberg’s own spending makes it harder for other rivals to cut through — and virtually assures he sucks up significant delegates.

  • A top Bloomberg official tells me the response is simple: Recover at the next debate — Tuesday in South Carolina.

Bloomberg warned in Salt Lake City yesterday: "Look, the real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump. Because I worry that we may very well be on the way to nominating somebody who cannot win in November."

  • "And if we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base, like Sen. Sanders, it will be a fatal error."

Situational awareness: Bloomberg is polling at 15-plus in most states and his money can buy a viable floor, regardless of debate performances.

  • Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg could be viable alternatives, and Elizabeth Warren got her mojo back with her debate takedown of Bloomberg. But they're all playing with pennies compared with the former New York mayor's billions.
  • Sanders, if anything, is rising. National and state polls show him getting stronger and performing similarly to — and sometimes better than — rivals in head-to-head match-ups with President Trump.
  • Part of the Bloomberg theory of the case depends on a contested convention breaking his way. But David Plouffe, Barack Obama's campaign manager in 2008, said on MSNBC's post-debate show: "The notion that the Democratic Party is going to have party insiders overturn the will of the voters — I just don’t think it's gonna happen. So the clock is ticking."

Between the lines: For Bloomberg's dream scenario to play out, other moderate candidates would need to drop out quickly. And that's not happening.

  • The debate ramped up intrigue over this scenario: What if none of the remaining Democrats in the race drops out, no matter how poorly they perform through Super Tuesday, because they all want to hang on in case of a contested convention?

🥊 Quote of the day ... Bloomberg to a crowd in Salt Lake City: "So, how was your night last night?"

Go deeper

What to watch in tonight's Democratic debate

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Colorado. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Bernie Sanders is now the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his opponents are ready to try to knock him down at tonight's debate in Charleston, South Carolina — especially Michael Bloomberg, who was the punching bag at the Las Vegas debate.

Why it matters: This is the last debate before Super Tuesday, when Sanders is expected to win California and Texas and could secure an insurmountable lead for the Democratic nomination. That's a direct threat to the entire field, but especially to Bloomberg, who skipped the early states to focus on the March 3 contests.

Bloomberg's historic bust

Mike Bloomberg waves to supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Super Tuesday. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Never in American history has a presidential candidate spent more to get less than Mike Bloomberg, making his buy-a-nomination bid a big bust. 

Why it matters: Bloomberg spent $600 million to win as many states as every American who chose not to run: zero. (He has American Samoa to show for it.)

Bloomberg suspends presidential campaign, endorses Biden

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg, who spent hundreds of millions of dollars to self-fund his 2020 presidential run, announced Wednesday that he is suspending his campaign after a poor performance on Super Tuesday and will endorse Joe Biden.

What he's saying: "I’ve always believed that defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it. After yesterday’s vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden," Bloomberg said in a statement.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy