Elizabeth Warren had a spectacular debate performance last night. It helped that she was joined on stage by the living embodiment of everything she has resented and fought against for the past few decades. We always enjoy seeing the Elizabeth Warren who during Senate hearings made Wells Fargo executives cry.

However, despite murdering the former mayor of New York City on live TV, Warren didn't actually receive top billing in news coverage of the Las Vegas debate. Mike Bloomberg dominated most headlines. Sure, it was his first debate, but how about sharing the spotlight with the woman who ripped out his still-beating heart and ate it? Describing the debate as "Democrats' Bloomberg pile-on" implies that everyone dealt blows as lethal as Warren's own jujutsu. Bloomberg would've had a much better night if Warren wasn't there.

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ELIZABETH WARREN WON! That debate wasn't a common Iowa caucus. There was a clear winner, but you can't find a single headline declaring, "Warren's Big Night" or even "Warren's 2020 Comeback Special."

The narrative emerging is that Bloomberg was woefully "unprepared" for the debate, which is the only possible explanation for how he got beat up by a girl. When Barack Obama slept through the first 2012 presidential debate, his performance was criticized and lampooned, but Mitt Romney was also praised as a sharp, polished debater. Honestly, we're just surprised they didn't call her "too prepared" like a common Chuck Todd.

And why rag on one Politico article when you can rag on two?


Columnists for the New York Times at least ranked Warren as the top performer Wednesday. She received top marks from everyone but predictably Bret Stephens and Maureen Dowd (sigh).

STEPHENS: Every answer contained a pander to a left-wing constituency. What about the rest of the country?

It's a Democratic debate. Does Stephens also accuse a steakhouse of catering to meat eaters? All those past Republican presidential debates where liberals were blamed for the downfall of Western civilization were super inclusive.

DOWD: She ground her heel into Bloomberg's trachea from the first minute. "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." She won't be the nominee and she won't be in a Bloomberg or Sanders cabinet, but she set the tone for the gloves-off debate.

There's not going to be a Bloomberg cabinet because Warren murderized him. It was not a flesh wound.

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin gave the night to Pete Buttigieg for his "calm" composure, but she believed Warren made a "strategic error" by expressing human emotion. There was similar criticism from actor Ken Olin, who said Warren "lost him" because she was just "too nasty." You'd think after 2016, men would avoid the word "nasty' when criticizing a woman. Consult a thesaurus and at least try to avoid looking like a misogynist.

Rubin thought Warren aided her own "destruction" because she attacked Bloomberg and not Bernie Sanders. Unless you never heard of Warren before today, it's not a huge shock that Warren would focus her fire on a sexist billionaire attempting to buy the primary. That seems on brand.

Rubin, along with other conservative pundits, were desperate to see the two most progressive candidates beat up on each other, as if that's the only way Warren can thrive in the primary. Sure, there's some overlap between her supporters and Sanders's, but during her polling highs, she performed well with white, college-educated, upper income voters. She's arguably competing more with Buttigieg for that demo than Sanders. People are more likely to consider voting for Warren when they see what she does best, and that's hitting the moderate candidates on policy. More importantly for Warren, as she looks toward Super Tuesday, is that she can more effectively fundraise from torching Bloomberg than needling Sanders.

The conservative mind is a fascinating place. Rubin dismissed Warren as "mean and angry" while praising Bloomberg for his apparently following the counsel of Michelle Obama ("When they go low, we go high.").

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Imagine watching last night's debate and thinking Bloomberg performed well on any level. Rubin is reminding us now of her Baghdad Bob impression during the 2016 Republican primaries. She was like the ghosts in The Sixth Sense, only seeing what she wanted to see and not realizing her party was dead all along. Warren complicates conservatives fantasies of an unassuming, moderate Democratic nominee.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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