Predictably, the spotlight in Nevada initially shone on former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was on stage for his first debate after spending $300 million of his own cash on raising his profile. (There's a reason you see his ads on every TV you walk by.) But Warren quickly took that spotlight away and proceeded to destroy him on national television in a winning performance that made pundits proclaim she crushed the night.
Following a brief back-and-forth between Bloomberg and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Warren quickly interjected, setting a fiery tone for the debate. "I'd like to talk about who we're running against: a billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians,'" she said. "I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg."
And we were off.
Warren wasn't done. She also came for Bloomberg on "racist policies like stop and frisk and redlining." And, she brought up the nearly 40 sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits brought against him and his media empire over the years.
Warren's dismantling of Bloomberg over his treatment of women was one of the most precise and devastating political attacks I have witnessed in twenty years of following this stuff— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 20, 2020
It was a strategic turnaround for a candidate who had stayed away from attacking others in debates — but it's not a shock that she saved the venom for the mega-billionaire.
Warren came in third place in the Iowa caucuses and fourth in the New Hampshire primary, so the upcoming contests in Nevada and South Carolina — places with large communities of color — will be even more crucial for her. With her no-holds-barred dressing down of Bloomberg, Warren showed that she came prepared, and that she's ready to get back into the headlines after being ignored by many in mainstream media.
"Elizabeth Warren crushed that debate," said CNN commentator Jess McIntosh. "She left Bloomberg in a puddle on that debate stage. ... I think at this point we're probably going to start treating her like the third-place candidate she currently is, if she's still in third place the next time we get a delegate count in after a fabulous night like tonight."
Warren also made an important statement for the #MeToo movement, demanding that Bloomberg release his employees from their NDAs (nondisclosure agreements) and let their accounts of discrimination and harassment become public. Bloomberg unconvincingly responded that they were "signed consensually" and, "None of them accuse me of doing anything other than, maybe they didn't like a joke I told." (Sample joke: "If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they'd go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale's.")
"I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the #MeToo movement has exposed," Bloomberg said, adding that his company has investigated all the complaints and that he has elevated many women to leadership positions and paid them equally.
That's when Warren came back with another applause moment: "I hope you heard what his defense was: 'I've been nice to some women.' That just doesn't cut it."
The exchange added to the urgency to continue the ongoing conversation over the role of NDAs in the workplace. "There is a rich policy debate over NDAs and how to address the veil of secrecy over sexual harassment," Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center and cofounder of the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, tweeted during the debate. "The debate stage did not actually include that conversation. I'd rather hear more about their plans to address what actually is a systemic problem. #MeTooVoters deserve better."