Hope and optimism took the night off Wednesday evening as the five surviving Democratic presidential hopefuls and one newbie faced off in a two-hour free-for-all of anger, insults and interruption.
It was a prime-time spectacle on par with pro wrestling, but not nearly as entertaining. Watching the entire two hours on NBC was an uncomfortable experience -- so much so that it reminded me why I sat out the last couple of these slugfests.
They leave me (and possibly others) feeling agitated -- as if someone (a group of people, actually) has suddenly barged into my house, stayed for a couple of hours, and completely disrupted the harmony of my home.
Newcomer candidate Mike Bloomberg was the center of attention going into this ninth Democratic Debate.
The deep-pocketed billionaire who is funding his own campaign might as well have worn a huge target painted on his suit jacket because slinging mud at him seemed to be the primary goal of at least some of the candidates Wednesday night.
Clearly, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have a problem with Bloomberg because he is a billionaire. He was also attacked for having once been a Republican. “Let's put someone forward who is actually a Democrat,” Pete Buttigieg said of Bloomberg at one point.
Among other things, Warren called Bloomberg “an arrogant billionaire,” and maybe he is arrogant. But it is doubtful that Warren has gotten to know Mike Bloomberg sufficiently in the 10 weeks that his campaign has been up and running for her to make this kind of judgment. To her, he is arrogant simply because he is wealthy.
For his part, Bloomberg applied the word "arrogant" to Donald Trump, labeling him as "an arrogant con man." "Arrogant" was a word heard over and over Wednesday night.
Throughout the evening, Bloomberg was attacked on the subjects of sex harassment and sexist workplace issues at his company, statements he is alleged to have made in the past about women, and the policing tactic known as “stop and frisk” that was in wide use in New York City when he was mayor.
The aim of the attack strategy, particularly on the part of Warren, seemed to be to draw parallels between Bloomberg and Trump.
"I'd like to talk about who we're running against: A billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians.' And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg," Warren said early in the debate.
Warren was standing right next to Bloomberg. Those of us with no experience in this kind of high-stakes give-and-take can only sit there and wonder how these people can withstand attacks like these from two feet away.
At times, Bloomberg, 78, adopted an almost placid demeanor during the attacks. At other times, though, he struggled to defend himself. And in the final half-hour of the debate, his energy seemed to flag. It was not a great night for him.
As for the other candidates, Warren, 70, was combative, but also came across as desperate for screen time. She continually raised and waved her hand to get the moderators’ attention to give her time to speak, even at times when it clearly was not her turn.
As he has done in previous debates, Joe Biden, 77, made statements that felt rushed and only half thought out.
Among other things, he continually used the word “moderators” when he seemed to mean “monitors” when talking about how the Obama administration sent overseers to New York City to investigate the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy. Perhaps Biden was confused because he was looking at a panel of debate moderators seated before him.
Pete Buttigieg, who at 38 is by far the youngest of the debaters, naturally had energy to spare. But he lost in his various sparring matches with Amy Klobuchar, 59, who accused him of not having the experience necessary in national issues and politics to be president.
Klobuchar came across as passionate and smart. But she was also beset by the slight shaking that has drawn speculation in previous debates about her health. Watching her Wednesday night, a viewer could form the impression that this phenomenon might stem from nervousness of some kind.
Once again, Bernie Sanders, 78, was the most energetic and consistent of all the debaters. One does not have to agree with him on anything to respect his commitment to the issues and problems he raises and the solutions he thinks will fix them.
In trying to decide who “won” Wednesday night’s debate by looking and sounding the best on TV, it seemed to be Sanders, with Klobuchar and Buttigieg vying for second place.