That the Nevada debate would be fervent was to be foreseen. The candidates lacerating each other in such a ferocious manner, however, was not what had been expected.

The Debate Was Brutal Right Out of the Gate

The hard-hitting standard was anchored rather swiftly during the first round of questioning. Anyone watching, and indeed the candidates, knew what they were in for at that point. Five Democrats attacked the surging Mike Bloomberg from the first minute repeatedly. Elizabeth Warren set the tone for what was to come and offensively described Bloomberg’s police tactics as New York’s mayor as racist as well as addressing allegations of sexism in Bloomberg’s company and non-disclosure agreements this conduct had warranted.

Target: Bloomberg

Later in the debate, Warren urged Bloomberg to clear up the allegations. Bloomberg did little but apologizing for his policies and alluded to the legal status as well as the validity of the NDA’s in question – which was not a promising first impression of the debate newcomer in front of a rather unfavorable Vegas crowd.

Pete Buttigieg, in turn, accused Bloomberg of seeking to buy the Democratic Party. At the same time, Bernie Sanders not only called Bloomberg’s wealth immoral and repeated his opinion that billionaires should not exist but utilized a lesson out of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto by declaring that Bloomberg’s workers had created his wealth, not the mayor himself. It was the standard the debate had reached.

Sanders’ dubious stance on economics did open the door for Bloomberg, however. As the first candidate to do so, Bloomberg omitted the label of democratic socialist regarding Sanders and associated him directly with communism instead, an ideology that had been tried before but “did not work.”

Other Candidates Also Fought for Dominance

These back and forth did not feature Bloomberg exclusively, however. All candidates on stage attacked each other viciously at times as well. Amy Klobuchar, for instance — who surprisingly finished third in the recent New Hampshire primary — was ridiculed for not being able to name Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador nor being cognizant of the key trade policies between Mexico and the US during a recent interview. While the faux pas was introduced by one of the moderators, the other candidates — Buttigieg, in particular — utilized the moment to shine and called out Klobuchar for apparent inconsistencies between her claims of possessing the pedigree of becoming president and not being cognizant of quintessential geopolitical facts. It was an interesting moment, as Klobuchar seemed visibly agitated and scrambled for explanations. The one she selected (i.e., “I got it wrong”) was, regrettably, rather misleading, as the difference between being wrong on and merely being ignorant of a topic is substantial.

Sanders on the Defense

Besides the back and forth exchanges attacking Bloomberg, Sanders also had to defend himself against the other, too. Joe Biden and Buttigieg repeatedly pointed out that Sanders’ plans for medicare for all were utterly unaffordable. Sanders’ response — perhaps the most under-addressed non-answer of the night — was to point out that the math in Buttigieg’s healthcare plan was not working either. This was an intellectually appalling non-answer. Klobuchar then added insult to injury when she asserted the indisputable reality that Sanders’ plan would never get through Congress, as even among Democrats, no majority can be obtained.

Biden, on the other hand, despite continuous struggles to produce eloquent sentences, finally managed to perform decently – which is much simpler with a lightning rod called Bloomberg on stage. It allowed Biden to focus on attacks while alluding to his achievements, and he did it well enough.

Warren’s Comeback Time

In this shark tank last night, however, it was Elizabeth Warren who made an impressive comeback on stage. With her campaign combusting, she had no other chance, but that one, she utilized — at times brilliantly. The attacks on Bloomberg and, in turn, his struggles to retaliate, will boost her momentum for the meantime and arguably carry her to Super Tuesday, the Nevada caucus result on Saturday notwithstanding.

Concluding Observations

As the man of the hour and the focus of much of the vitriol onstage, Bloomberg had a tough start into the debate for the reasons mentioned above. With Warren landing a haymaker in the first round, it took him a while to get back on his feet. Bloomberg seemingly felt more comfortable as the debate went along and landed a few impressive punches himself, particularly on Sanders. Nonetheless, the magnitude with which his opponents attacked him was surprising. If the president’s name was not Donald Trump, there is a chance last night could have damaged Bloomberg’s reputation so severely that he had become unelectable immediately. Allegations of racism and misogyny usually do the trick, especially among today’s politically correct and identity politics-based Democratic party.

Nonetheless, Bloomberg has the luxury not to rely on these debates to measure his success. His campaign is focused on his ads and commercials, and his average performance will thus have a limited impact on his campaign moving forward. The latter notwithstanding, Bloomberg will likely improve and be better equipped for the next five on one debate match.