Certainly, a couple of weeks ago, Biden was struggling in Iowa and then New Hampshire, and his lead among African Americans was sliding. But three things happened that turned Bloomberg into part of the problem, not the solution to Sanders.
First, Bloomberg came out from behind the ads and showed he cannot compete face-to-face in debates against skilled politicians. His first debate was a disaster; his second was marginally less so, but still cringeworthy. He cannot explain why he continues to muzzle women who filed suit against his company. He looks less than candid in slow-walking release of his tax returns. He managed to get to Sanders’s left on China. (President Xi Jinping is the one communist Sanders unambiguously identifies as a dictator; Bloomberg thinks Xi reports to the Politburo on the communist org chart.) His jokes have been awkward and unfunny. His is not a presidential-caliber politician. And here is the kicker: He is not even effective in taking on Sanders because the socialist hollers “oligarch” to shut down whatever point Bloomberg tires to advance.
Second, Biden on Feb. 26 looks a lot different than Biden on Feb. 11. For one thing, he got 20 percent of the vote for second place in Nevada and put distance between him and the rest of the pack. The past two debates were his best of the campaign, including his single strongest outing in South Carolina on Tuesday. Bloomberg’s effort to consign Biden to oblivion not only failed, but Biden — minus the billions of available ad dollars — now looks like the more capable of the two to take down Sanders.
Third, Sanders is finally getting the scrutiny warranted as a front-runner. Remarkably, his math on Medicare-for-all is more than just thin. If he could sketch it out on the back of a napkin, it would be an improvement. It does not take hours, as Sanders suggested in the debate, to explain he has a scheme to raise taxes on everyone making $29,000 or more — and still has a gap of trillions of dollars (over 10 years). In Trumpian fashion, he continues to deny the solid documentation that he considered primarying President Obama in 2012. His record on guns is shoddy. But in these cases, the damage is being inflicted by Biden and by the rhetorically skillful former South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg. Bloomberg isn’t helping.
If one turns to polls for Super Tuesday states, Bloomberg is not beating Sanders; rather, he is taking 15-20 percent of the vote with no sign he can overtake Sanders. In the latest PPP North Carolina poll, Biden leads with 23 percent, followed by Sanders at 20 percent and Bloomberg at 17 percent. In the University of Houston’s Texas poll, Biden and Sanders are tied at 22 percent, Bloomberg is fourth behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 12 percent. In California, Bloomberg runs third or fourth. This is after hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising.
It would be impossible to convince Bloomberg before Super Tuesday to recognize he is too flawed a candidate to win the nomination. Nevertheless, if he does not win a single Super Tuesday state, as is quite possible, he must shift gears. His concern about Sanders wrecking the Democrats’ election chances are sincere, I believe, so he should pursue that goal by other means: Make way for the candidate who does have the clearest shot at bringing down Sanders — the one who not only is closest in the returns but has a substantial share of the nonwhite vote. Better yet, invite fellow billionaire Tom Steyer (flattened by Biden in South Carolina on his purchase of a private prison for profit) to get out as well.
Remaining in the race only to give more embarrassing debate performances and divide up the non-Sanders vote would tarnish Bloomberg’s legacy and make him the Mr. Money Bags villain should Sanders get the nomination and lose to Trump. Bloomberg is savvy enough to know how to attain his goal — beating Trump — by means other than his own candidacy.