The media consensus, across the board, is that Mike Bloomberg had a terrible debate. The man isn’t a debater, and he’s never played at this level, so it’s not a huge surprise. From Fox News, to Politico, the Washington Post, NBC News, to the New York Times, they’re all talking about Bloomberg.
Is that bad?
I’m going to risk a contrarian take here and say no. All the analysts agree that Elizabeth Warren had a really good night. They all agreed that Joe Biden seemed recharged, even rejuvenated. They all agreed that Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg tangled like a rattlesnake and a king snake in the same patch of grass. They all agreed that Bernie Sanders went straight for Bloomberg, and came away bloodied.
But here’s something to sober you up.
The RCP national average still has Bernie Sanders as the undisputed leader, with Biden and Bloomberg in a statistical tie, with Warren and Buttigieg bringing up the rear of the top five. Klobuchar, Steyer, and Gabbard are no-shows. FiveThirtyEight’s model still gives Sanders a 37% chance of winning more than half the pledged delegates, behind “no one.” The model has Bloomberg way ahead of Buttigieg, Warren and everyone else with a 9% chance–and he’s never appeared on a single ballot.
Things can–and do–change overnight. But a single debate performance generally doesn’t sink or levitate one candidate. Momentum after a win in an actual caucus or primary does change things.
What is important to note is that Bloomberg’s strategy is to build name brand ID. He wants to be talked about. Whether the pundits are talking about him as washed up or not isn’t particularly important to that strategy. It’s called “earned media” and when coupled with wall-to-wall advertising, it’s extremely valuable and effective. In fact, in 2016, Donald Trump had over $2 billion in earned media, which in many ways is responsible for his election.
Bloomberg pays for influencers to talk about him in a positive light, online and in paid media. One bad debate has everyone in the media (including Bloomberg News reporting on how “Bloomberg Hammered, Warren Shines and Sanders Dodges Trouble“) talking about Mike Bloomberg. That’s all earned media, and the Nevada Caucuses are Saturday.
By Saturday, the talk about the debate will have died down, and Bloomberg can’t possibly underperform expectations since he’s not even on the ballot. South Carolina follows a week later, and Bloomberg can’t possibly underperform expectations since he’s not on that ballot either.
Meanwhile, Sanders will cement his lead, Warren will either uptick a little or continue to fade, Biden will hang on for dear life, and everyone else (besides Bloomberg) will have to decide the best time to drop out. By Super Tuesday (March 3), the debate will be ancient history. Except Mike Bloomberg is going to be on everyone’s mind.
I don’t see this as a loss for Bloomberg, but of course, we won’t know that for sure until March 3. It seems very unlikely to me, with saturation advertising, clinging to Obama’s belt buckle, and lots of earned media, Bloomberg will somehow implode in the next two weeks.
In fact, I think all the talk can’t do anything except help him.