If you woke up this morning to the scent of burnt flesh in the air, that's because Elizabeth Warren cooked Michael Bloomberg over an open flame at last night's debate in Nevada.
He was not the only one on the defensive, sputtering, surprised. Warren built a big old bonfire and piled everyone onto it. She broiled Joe Biden for being buddy-buddies with Mitch McConnell, she braised Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar for their weak-sauce health care plans (and then left the two of them simmering in a pot together, where they spent the rest of the night attacking each other). She even lightly singed her old friend Bernie Sanders. After disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire, she is a candidate with zero fucks left to give.
Still, it was the way she flame-broiled Michael Bloomberg, dunked him in a deep-fryer, doused him in mustard, and ate him live on television that will be best remembered.
A few seconds into the debate, this is what she said—these were the first words she spoke onstage:
That's some A-grade artillery fire right there. At first, it seemed like she was talking about Donald Trump, but actually she was talking about Mayor Bloomberg. Notice how she says "Mayor Bloomberg" with relish; she'd been waiting for this moment. (When Warren ran against Republican Scott Brown for her Massachusetts seat in the US Senate, Bloomberg backed Brown.) Then she ticked through Bloomberg's history of "hiding tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk."
She added: "Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."
She was just getting warmed up. Moments later, a moderator asked Bloomberg about his past non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with women regarding sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, and he gave a clearly prepared answer about how, for example, his deputy mayor was a woman. Warren swooped in: "I hope you heard what his defense was: 'I've been nice to some women.'"
Bloomberg theatrically rolled his eyes, but did Warren stop there? Oh hell no, she did not stop there...
Her prosecution of Bloomberg over those NDAs—while standing right next to him—was so good that right afterward (not shown in the clip above) Biden, taking her idea outright and amplifying it, repeated her call for Bloomberg to release women from their NDAs.
Later, Bloomberg apologized for stop-and-frisk when he was asked about it, and then the moderator turned to Biden, who of course started sputtering about Barack Obama, and then Bloomberg responded to that by reiterating his apology, and then Warren (who was absolutely not having it) explained why even Bloomberg's apology was messed up:
God she's good. She's just better on her feet than these other people. She just is!
Then there was Warren laying into Buttigieg's health care plan ("It's not a plan, it's a PowerPoint") and her accusing him of changing his positions to make his billionaire donors happy. Then there was Warren laying into Klobuchar's health care plan ("It's like a Post-It note: Insert plan here"), and then, when pressed, saying that she went to Klobuchar's website and her health care plan was only two paragraphs long:
Conservatives on social media were grumbling (as they always do) that it's not a good look for Warren to come across as "mean and angry" (as Jennifer Rubin tweeted last night), but that's just sexist noise. If Warren were a man, they would not be saying "mean and angry," they would be saying "sharp and strong." Besides, she's presented herself as "a fighter" from the beginning of this campaign. Last night's performance was not a departure from that.
No matter what you think of her policies, you have to admit she succeeded spectacularly at this debate. She made it clear what she would look like debating Trump, by treating Bloomberg as cut from the same cloth. And her campaign reported its best single-day fundraising ever—a haul of almost $3 million.
Today's conventional wisdom is that she may have sunk Bloomberg's campaign the moment it started (although we're going to need to see what happens on Super Tuesday to really say, because that's the first time Bloomberg's name will appear on ballots). "Titanic, Meet Iceberg," begins one headline in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, people who were counting her out of this race are taking another look at her chances. "Could Elizabeth Warren's Dominant Debate Performance Save Her Campaign?" reads a headline today in New York magazine.
She had many good moments throughout the night, lotsa zingers, lotsa sparks. Some of the best are above in this post, but there are more good ones than I can find standalone clips of right now. Wouldn't it be great if there were a super-cut of all the times Warren spoke last night? Oh wait, there is!!! You may want to zip yourself into some flame-retardant gear before you watch, because 🔥🔥🔥.
Even that doesn't give a good enough sense of how the night went. Really, her genius was not just in what she said, but the way she said it—the way she reframed various questions, the way she responded to her competitors, the way she slipped into conversations that weren't always about her, the way she walked up and down that stage with her flamethrower on full blast.
Plus, there were a ton of other side skirmishes that were un-look-away-from-able, including whatever the hell was going down between Amy and Pete. "Are you saying I'm dumb?" Klobuchar said at one point.
The whole debate is worth a watch. Even if you've already seen it, pop some popcorn and get comfortable and do it again:
By the way, 19.7 million people watched this last night on NBC and MSNBC combined—"a new record high" for a Democratic debate.
Here are some other reactions:
Listen, some pundits may say that it was unsporting for Elizabeth Warren to kick off this debate by ripping Mike Bloomberg’s arms off and using them to punch him in the dick, but i respectfully disagree
— andi zeisler (@andizeisler) February 20, 2020
lester holt: thanks for being here
liz warren: mike bloomberg is an absolute piece of shit
— Very Calm Sporting Enthusiast (@CalmSporting) February 20, 2020