On July 22, 1963, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston knocked out the former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in their rematch at two minutes, ten seconds of the first round. In their first fight in Chicago on September 25, 1962, Liston had knocked out Patterson at two minutes, six seconds of the first round.
Floyd Patterson would have been the greatest light-heavyweight champion of all time. As a heavyweight, however, he was really an overstuffed light-heavyweight, unable to take the punches of legitimate, full-sized hard-punching heavyweights. On that July, 1963 night in Las Vegas, Floyd was forevermore defined in the lore of fistiana as a glass jaw fighter.
And last night in Las Vegas will go down in political campaign history as the night when Michael Bloomberg was exposed as a glass jaw politico, with major vulnerabilities on issues of race (Stop and Frisk, Central Park Five), treatment of women (NDAs, toxic workplace, sexual harassment), transgender people (read this column about Bloomberg in 2019 referring to transgender people as “some guy wearing a dress” https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2020/02/19/politics/bloomberg-transgender-comments-2019/index.html), and failure to disclose his tax returns (read the column in InsiderNJ today by Bob Hennelly about Bloomberg’s outright lies on the issue https://www.insidernj.com/mike-bloomberg-did-not-disclose-his-taxes/).
On top of all this, Bloomberg projected the worst visual debate physical image of any candidate since Richard Nixon in the first debate with Jack Kennedy in 1960. He looked all of his 78 years and then some. Compared to Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders looked like Clark Gable in his prime.
No, with this political glass jaw, Bloomberg will not be the Democratic presidential nominee, although he may be able to win a few primaries due to his lavish television campaign spending. Along with Bloomberg, there are three other debaters from last night whom I rule out as having any chance for the nomination:
Elizabeth Warren: She gave a fine debate performance, eviscerating Bloomberg on issues involving treatment of women. She has already lost the Progressive vote to Sanders, however, and has totally alienated a major traditional Democratic constituency, the Jewish vote, with her emphatic refusal to attend this year’s American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Warren is going nowhere.
Amy Klobuchar: She was totally rattled and flustered by the attacks of Pete Buttigieg on her voting record. This bad impression helps to doom her long shot presidential aspirations.
Pete Buttigieg: Yes, he debated most skillfully and surgically took apart Amy Klobuchar. In the process, however, his sarcasm and condescension made him appear sexist, even though he is not. This will further hamper his campaign, already perhaps fatally damaged by his inability to attract support from the African-American community.
After Las Vegas, Bernie Sanders, who always performs well in the debates, remains the frontrunner. The major winner of last night’s debate, Joe Biden, did expose, however, a serious Sanders vulnerability on the immigration issue.
Specifically, in 2007, Sanders as a senator voted against the comprehensive immigration reform bill that, if enacted, would have opened a pathway to citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants. This was a bipartisan measure whose legislative architect was Senator Ted Kennedy. It had the support of the then President George W. Bush.
With typical Sanders hyperbole, Bernie claims that he voted against the bill because it had aspects of slavery. This assertion, however, is totally without credibility, given its authorship by Kennedy and its support from then renowned liberal senators like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Joe Biden himself, and New Jersey’s own Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg.
Biden performed superbly in the Las Vegas debate in terms of both style and substance. He showed an absolute mastery of issues and the politics of same.
Joe always has a few gaffes – he used the terms “moderators” and “moderates” a few times when referring to the monitors sent by the Obama administration to New York City to observe the impact of Stop and Frisk on the African-American community. These few gaffes, however, did not prevent Biden’s attacks on Bloomberg from having an absolutely devastating impact on the campaign of the embattled mayor.
And now, Biden’s comeback victory in the debate and the fact that he remains the Democratic candidate with the best likelihood of defeating Trump has earned him the following plausible path to the Democratic presidential nomination.
First, Joe must win the South Carolina primary on February 29. Hopefully, his Las Vegas performance will enable him to obtain the endorsement of South Carolina’s iconic African-American Congressman James Clyburn, ensuring his victory in the Palmetto State.
Biden’s present problem is that he is low on financial resources and there are only three days remaining between the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, March 3. Aside from South Carolina, he should target his time and resources towards the California primary on Super Tuesday. Joe should make the Sanders weakness on the immigration issue the core of his appeal to the Latino community. He won’t defeat Sanders in California, but the immigration issue can substantially lower the Sanders margin of victory, reducing the number of delegates he wins.
Then, Biden should target his time and resources towards the primaries in three states: New York and Pennsylvania on April 28 and New Jersey on June 2. In preparation of these three primaries, Biden must revive his fundraising. A South Carolina victory and a strong second place showing in California should help greatly in this regard.
Biden must win all three of these primaries to stay alive. With Bloomberg’s vulnerabilities on issues of race and treatment of women and the exposure of the Sanders record on immigration, Joe can win all three of these contests. Then, the Democratic National Convention in July in Milwaukee would be deadlocked, with no candidate able to win on the first ballot.
In a thus brokered convention and supported by a majority of the 500 super-delegates, Joe is likely to emerge as the nominee on the second or third ballot. Like Bill Clinton in 1992, he would be the Democratic Party Comeback Kid in 2020.
And just think – unlike Bill Clinton in 1992, Joe Biden in 2020 doesn’t even need to overcome a Gennifer Flowers issue!
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.