'I didn't learn anything:' Bloomberg slams debate for 'pre-canned sound bites'

By Christopher Cadelago

Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire self-funder whose refusal to solicit contributions kept him off the debate stage Tuesday, panned the televised exchange as little more than scripted theater and suggested Democrats overhaul future formats.

“I didn't learn anything,” Bloomberg said on ABC’s “The View,” dismissing the last TV confrontation before the Iowa caucuses as “he said/she said” and “pre-canned sound bites.” “Everybody wants to say something that doesn't get them in trouble or does start a controversy that's been pre-scripted that they think is good," he said.

He wants debates where a subject is selected and the candidates focus on it in depth, rather than a general interest grab bag that bounces from topic to topic. "That to me would make more sense than just free-wheeling — because you go from subject to subject to subject and never get two sides," he added.

Bloomberg’s call to reformat debates is one of a growing number of ideas the former New York mayor is proposing to rethink how Democrats choose their nominee. This week, he pledged to push the DNC in future cycles to reorder the early voting states, criticizing the current calendar that begins with Iowa and New Hampshire given their lack of racial diversity.

Bloomberg’s rivals have criticized his refusal to engage them on stage and in the early states. Still, Bloomberg, who ran TV ads on CNN ahead of the Tuesday event explaining his absence, again stressed he would like to participate. “It's harder to get the message out if you're not in the debates. It gives you a lot of television exposure,” he said.

But he refuses to raise money from donors, a Democratic National Committee requirement to qualify. He said Democrats ought to consider changing those rules, too, and argued his strategy of sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into states that vote on Super Tuesday or later was due to his late entry — and will benefit the eventual nominee whether it's him or someone else.

He has spent more than $225 million on advertising and amassed a staff of over 1,000 since his late November entry. While Bloomberg wasn’t on the stage Tuesday — he appeared instead for an interview with Stephen Colbert — a social media account linked to his campaign garnered the attention of the so-called blue-checkmark class on Twitter for its weird, sometime edgy memes designed to draw attention to him.

“View” hosts showed him one of the tweets with his face superimposed on a meatball. Bloomberg feigned ignorance, then smirked slightly, before proudly admitting “I like meatballs.”

“It was young people that run the social media part of the campaign having some fun," he said. "Everybody is so serious.”

One of the hosts, Sunny Hostin, seemed taken aback that he enjoys meatballs.

“I do,” an impatient Bloomberg insisted, looking a bit annoyed that the topic was stretching on for so long. “I do.”