It was Mike Bloomberg’s first time on the big stage, and it could hardly have gone worse. Until Wednesday night in Las Vegas, the Democratic debates had been civil affairs, with no candidate wanting to be the first to go hard negative and be seen by voters as fragmenting the party. But the same courtesy apparently did not extend to a late-to-the-party mega-billionaire whose record-breaking campaign spending has been criticized as an attempt to buy the Democratic nomination.
Bloomberg was savaged all night, on all fronts: on his stewardship as mayor of New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, on the non-disclosure agreements signed by women who made accusations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at his companies, and on the presumptuousness of his make-it-rain campaign strategy. The attacks landed more often than they didn’t, and it’s easy to imagine many viewers coming away from that debate with a substantially deflated opinion of Bloomberg. But here’s the $400 million question: Will it matter? The answer: Maybe less than you’d think.
The most brutal blow of the night came at the hands of Elizabeth Warren over how women have been treated at Bloomberg’s companies. Early in the debate, Bloomberg had tried to head off allegations of workplace sexism that have cropped up against him in recent days, insisting he supported the #MeToo movement and that he had many satisfied female employees at his business.
Warren seized the opportunity at once: “I hope you heard what his defense was: ‘I’ve been nice to some women.’ That just doesn’t cut it.” The senator then repeatedly urged Bloomberg to release the women who had accused him of misconduct from their non-disclosure agreements.