Democratic candidates take part in most acrimonious debate yet

Qualifying candidates lined up on stage before the Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 14 at Drake in Des Moines. 

Katherine Kealey

In Las Vegas, the boxing capital of the world, the gloves were off in the 2020 Democratic debate. 

Six candidates stood on the stage with the Nevada caucuses less than a week away.

The candidates that qualified were Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg. This is the first debate Bloomberg took part in, and observers predicted he and frontrunner Sanders would face the highest scrutiny

Questions ranged from transparency to climate change and immigration.

Mack Shelley, Iowa State professor and chair of the political science department, said the loser of the night was Bloomberg because of a lack of preparation.

“[Bloomberg] kept essentially coming up with statements that said, ‘Look, I’m worth a lot of money, I kind of do what I want,’” Shelley said. “Sometimes it seems that he doesn’t really care very much about fundamental issues; it is more like he is projecting an image that he can buy this election.”

Bloomberg said during the debate he is the one that can take on Donald Trump, whom he described as an “arrogant conman” and referred to himself as a “manager” when talking about bringing New York City back from 9/11.

“I am a philanthropist who didn’t inherit his money but made his money, and I am spending that money to get rid of Donald Trump, the worst president we have ever had,” Bloomberg said. “And if I can get that done, it will be a great contribution to America and my kids.”

Shelley said Bloomberg was the opponent every candidate could easily attack, one of them being Biden, whom Shelley also said has lost momentum.

Shelley said Biden is similarly doing what Hilary Clinton did in the 2016 election of running on his resume, and he comes up short on concrete policy proposals. He also said Buttigieg and Klobuchar are telling him to move out of the way for the moderate position. 

“[Biden] is starting to sound like a broken record; I can just predict almost exactly what he is going to say, and something like that is not particularly good,” Shelley said. 

Shelley said this debate seemed to have a sharper tone; the audience saw a more aggressive side of the candidates, specifically Warren.

Warren hit Bloomberg multiple times for his history relating to “stop and frisk.”

“I do think that this is about leadership and accountability,” Warren said. “When the mayor says that he apologizes, listen very closely to the apology, the language he used; it is about how it turned out. Now, this isn’t about how it turned out; this is about what it was designed to do to begin with. It targeted communities of color, it targeted black and brown men from the beginning, and if you want to issue a real apology, then the apology has to start with the intent of the plan as it was put together and the willful ignorance day by day by day […]. You need a different apology.”

Warren took a few shots at Sanders throughout the night, as they both fight for the position as the progressive nominee. Shelley said he thought Warren performed fairly well on the defensive side.

Bloomberg also took a shot at Sanders, calling him a “communist.” Shelley said this comment was used as a scare tactic. Shelley said Sanders arguably won the debate by default.

“I guess by not really having a terrible night, Sanders is the winner […] by not really getting beaten up beyond the point of not being able to recover,” Shelley said. “Most of the things that were said about him, other than Bloomberg essentially calling him communist, there wasn’t anything really new there, and they were all essentially old talking points. They haven’t worked so far.”