'Bloomberg was the Titanic': Brutal Democratic debate may have ended billionaire's 2020 hopes, experts say

Alex Woodward
The 78-year-old has skipped the first four early voting states: Getty

In the wake of Democrats' descrution of Michael Bloomberg in his anticipated first appearance on the debate stage, pundits say his poor performance could mark the beginning of the end of the former New York mayor's bid for the White House.

Following his late-entry into the 2020 race, spending more than $400m on his campaign and attacking his Democratic opponents, Mr Bloomberg's appearance was expected to set off a tension-filled powder keg, with candidates ready to take down the billionaire former Republican.

Mr Bloomberg appeared expressionless as Elizabeth Warren eviscerated his record on inappropriate comments to women, to which he said "they didn't like a joke I told". His response was among several opportunities for the candidates to attack not just his history but his remarks made on the debate stage in real-time.

Analysts and pundits say his inability to account for himself has either completely blown his shot at the nomination or given candidates the ammunition they need heading into crucial primary elections.

CNN's Van Jones said it was nothing but a "disaster" for the candidate: "Bloomberg went in as the Titanic, a billion-dollar machine Titanic. Titanic, meet iceberg Elizabeth Warren. She took him to task in a way I've never seen in a debate."

Candidates and voters have demanded answers for his past remarks and policy positions, from his support for his police department's racial profiling to the dozens of allegations of sexual harrassment at his company.

Other candidates joined in as Ms Warren pressed him to release those women from nondisclosure agreements that prohibit them from talking about their experience.

The Massachusetts senator opened the debate announcing that the candidates on stage are 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."

"Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee 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. "Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight called Mr Bloomberg's appearance during the first half of the debate "one of the worst performances I can remember".

"Pretty much everyone else on stage was willing to twist the knife in", he says. "These were not easy things to defend, necessarily. But he came across as smug and unrelatable and dismissive, and he's going to give fodder to the media and to the other candidates to investigate these lines of attack."

Mr Bloomberg said he was "embarrassed" for his record on stop and frisk when asked what his message is to young black and Latino men he once instructed police to "throw them against the wall". But he said the policy "got out of control", refusing to apologise for its existence in the first place.

"His answer on stop and frisk was as bad as it could possibly be", Mr Jones said.

Former presidential candidate and now CNN contributor Andrew Yang blamed his performance on a lack of coaching: "The fact that he did not have those answers at his fingertips lets me know categorically he was not properly prepared for this debate."

Pollster Frank Luntz told CNBC that the debate could potentially spell "the beginning of the end [for Bloomberg] because he didn't come across as prepared. And more importantly, I don't think he captured the tone of the audience".

Mr Jones said: "Every major thing that people were looking for a champion ... he let people down tonight. He's got to get it together with his team.

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