- - Thursday, February 20, 2020

Money can buy almost anything, but it can’t buy safety from the arrows of the envious. That’s the takeaway from televised debate crossfire that a six-pack of bitter 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls trained on one another, and on a billionaire newcomer just entering the race. It’s hard to pick a winner out of the chaos, but the losers are obvious: Michael Bloomberg and the American people.

If meanness is a measure of political prowess, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is peerless. “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians,’” began the Massachusetts senator whose poll numbers have plummeted in recent weeks. “And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” she continued, alternating scowls between the camera and Mr. Bloomberg, standing at her right shoulder.

Michael Bloomberg’s rude reception at Wednesday’s candidate faceoff in Las Vegas, sponsored by NBC, MSNBC, Noticias Telemundo and The Nevada Independent, was only surprising in its intensity. More important to Democrats than likability is winnability, and “Mini-Mike,” as President Trump is fond of calling him, has the bank account to bury his fellow New York billionaire. “I know how to take on an arrogant con man like Donald Trump that comes from New York,” retorted Mr. Bloomberg. “If I can get that done, it will be a great contribution to America and to my kids.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his lead to Bernie Sanders in the Real Clear Politics poll average, joined the Vermont senator in pummeling Mr. Bloomberg over the “stop and frisk” police practice championed as New York City mayor. Apparently, only Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg haven’t forgotten that a smile is more attractive than a snarl.

Mr. Bloomberg faces additional reputational danger from a fellow billionaire who wasn’t on the stage in Las Vegas. Tom Steyer, who failed to make the cut, has vowed to flood crucial media markets with an ad hammering his rich rival for “stop and frisk” and his comments supporting “redlining,” a discriminatory mortgage lending practice.

Top issues for Democrats in 2020 include health care, gun policy, climate change and education, in that order, according to a January Gallup poll. In normal times, the public chooses as their champion the contestant best suited to address their interests. And they would harbor suspicion of a pol who switches from Democrat to Republican to get elected mayor of New York City, then declares himself an independent while still in office, only to revert to Democrat once again.

These are not normal times, though, because money has never talked louder. When he threw his hat into the ring in November, Mr. Bloomberg vowed to spend as much as $2 billion of his $62 billion fortune to get elected or, failing that, to help another Democrat win the White House. In short order, the Democratic National Committee dropped its rule requiring candidates to meet high numbers of individual donors to qualify for debates, an obvious gift to the self-funded billionaire.

Still needing to show at least 10 percent support in four national polls, Mr. Bloomberg has purchased his party’s attention with advertising costing at least $418 million, according to political ad tracker Kantar/CMAG. He qualified for Las Vegas in the nick of time when an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Tuesday put him at 19 percent nationwide, in second place behind Bernie Sanders’ 31 percent.

Even if Democrats were to put aside hand-to-hand combat and elect to hold hands instead, they would still face a dreadful challenge: How to convince Americans to doubt their lyin’ eyes and believe the U.S. economy isn’t soaring and Donald Trump doesn’t deserve a second term.

For his part, President Trump persists in his practice of stalking his opponents as they gather to unseat him. He blew into Las Vegas Tuesday for a three-night stay at his own Trump International Hotel, a mile or so from the debate site. He has scheduled a Republican rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Friday, as Democrats prepare for the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

With Mr. Bloomberg holding off his ballot debut until March 3, Super Tuesday, Mr. Sanders is the still the odds-on favorite to win the party’s nomination. Given Democrats’ spectrum of debate emotion, ranging from angry to irate, caucus-goers might as well just roll the dice.

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