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Elizabeth Warren’s political legacy should include destroying Mike Bloomberg and Chris Matthews

On her way down, she took them with her.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren slammed Mike Bloomberg in Las Vegas debate with this memorable opener: “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.”
Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is dropping out of the presidential race, leaving two white men to duke it out for the Democratic nomination and then take on the white man sitting in the Oval Office.

It’s a disappointing turn of events for Democrats who are proud of recent historic firsts — electing America’s first black president and then electing a woman as a major party’s nominee in 2016. The 2020 Democratic field started out diverse but winnowed over time until Warren was the only candidate standing who wasn’t a white man.

And while there’s plenty to unpack about the role gender and race played in this year’s contest, Warren can at least have some modicum of satisfaction that as she went down, she took Mike Bloomberg and Chris Matthews with her.

Warren eviscerated Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, twice on primary debate stages, going after him for his treatment of female employees at his company, Bloomberg LP, in a stunningly effective assault. And she knows it.

“In this campaign, we have been willing to fight, and, when necessary, we left plenty of blood and teeth on the floor,” Warren said in a press call announcing her departure from the race. “And I can think of one billionaire who has been denied the chance to buy this election.”

She appeared on MSNBC after one of the debates to talk about Bloomberg’s history and ended up taking a prominent network figure, Chris Matthews, to task in a way feminists had wanted to see for years. The exchange went viral and inspired women to speak up about his behavior. He was gone from MSNBC just days later.

Warren destroyed Bloomberg at his first debate (NDA edition)

Mike Bloomberg spent roughly $400 million on television ads before he stepped onto a debate stage. When he finally did, Warren made him wish he hadn’t.

In a series of stunning confrontations, Warren forced Bloomberg to contend with his alleged history of mistreating women — including signing nondisclosure agreements with former female employees who say he harassed or discriminated against them.

“The mayor has to stand on his record. And what we need to know is what is lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women — maybe dozens, who knows — to sign nondisclosure agreements for gender discrimination in the workplace,” Warren began, winding up before landing the punch: “So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all those women from those nondisclosure agreements so we can hear their side of the story?”

Bloomberg attempted to play down the matter. “We have a very few nondisclosure agreements,” he said.

“How many is that?” Warren interjected.

Bloomberg and Warren at the Las Vegas debate, the first he appeared in, on February 19.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

“None of them accused me of anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” Bloomberg went on, not answering Warren’s question but somehow making things worse for himself anyway. (His jokes were really funny, by the way, like saying of female employees: “I’d f--- that in a second,” according to a lawsuit.)

Warren looked at the crowd knowingly, which, by this point, was squarely on her side. Bloomberg was done.

He stammered through an argument about how the women “decided they wanted to keep it quiet for everybody’s interest. They signed the agreements, and that’s what we are going to live with.”

Warren had won. Still, she dug the knife in deeper, just to be sure: “This is not just a question of the mayor’s character,” she concluded. “This is also a question about electability. We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who-knows-how-many nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against. That’s not what we do as Democrats.”

Then the next day, Warren did some epic trolling. Warren, a lawyer and former Harvard Law professor, wrote up a contract for Bloomberg to use to allow the women involved in the NDAs to be released from the agreement.

Amazingly, the Bloomberg campaign responded by actually following through — for three women. They offered to release those three women from their NDAs. But we still don’t know how Bloomberg’s lawyers selected just these three cases, how many other women remain bound by NDAs, or what the specific allegations are — about him and about the company culture he created. Also, we don’t know if he’d fight what comes out in public, or in court.

It was an attempt at atonement, but a failed one. And after his disastrous appearance, Bloomberg started sinking in the polls.

Warren destroyed Bloomberg at his second debate (pregnancy edition)

Two weeks after laying into Bloomberg during his first debate appearance, Warren went back at him. This time she started out telling a story she’s told before about losing her job as a special needs teacher when the principal discovered she was pregnant. The kicker this time, though, was different. “At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, ‘Kill it,’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees,”

Bloomberg responded, “I never said that.”

When moderator Gayle King asked Warren what the evidence was for the allegation, Warren backed the accuser and said: “her words.”

Warren was referencing an allegation made by Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a former employee at Bloomberg LP. In a 1998 lawsuit, Garrison said that when she told Bloomberg she was pregnant, he told her to “kill it.” Garrison has never changed her story.

(Warren didn’t mention, it, but there is another witness to the incident. In a recent Washington Post article, another former Bloomberg employee, David Zielenziger, said he heard Bloomberg make the comment. He told the Post he thought Bloomberg’s behavior toward Garrison was “outrageous,” adding, “I understood why she took offense.”)

A few days later, on Super Tuesday, Bloomberg discovered that $400 million can’t undo two minutes in the ring with Warren.

Chris Matthews spiraled along with Bloomberg

On the night Warren took Bloomberg to task over the “kill it” saga, she appeared on MSNBC, where she went on to knock down another man who has a long documented history of making sexist comments: Chris Matthews.

Matthews was puzzled why Warren would believe that Bloomberg would make such a terrible comment to a pregnant employee.

“A pregnant employee sure said he did,” Warren replied. “Why shouldn’t I believe her?”

Matthews asked Warren if she believed Bloomberg was lying and Warren held firm: “I believe the woman, which means he’s not telling the truth.”

“Why would he lie?” Matthews responded, a question that has a pretty obvious answer.

“Why would she lie?” Warren fired back.

Matthews critics have been frustrated by the attitudes he’s displayed on air, unchallenged, for years. The moment with Warren felt different. Suddenly, the tide turned.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren with then-MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews after the first Democratic primary debate on June 26, 2019.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Journalist Laura Bassett followed up on the viral moment with a piece in GQ titled “Like Warren, I had my own sexist run-in with Chris Matthews,” where she detailed creepy comments he made to her in the MSNBC green room. The piece, likewise, went viral, and other women chimed in, sharing their own accounts of Matthews’s attitudes.

By Monday night, Matthews stepped down as the anchor of Hardball.

Matthews was a major player in shaping American political journalism for a generation, including how we view the intersection of gender and politics.

He got away with demeaning female guests for years. They were on his show to boost their profile and their careers, not to get in fights with him about sexism (which certainly wouldn’t get them invited back). So he got away with diminishing them by commenting on their looks, a signal to the audience that the conduct is okay.

Warren’s appearance was different, though. Not only did she not give a damn what Matthews thought of her, showing she didn’t care was the whole point. She was running against Bloomberg on the case that he is wrong. She wanted to tell Matthews he was wrong.

Warren stepped down from the presidential race on Thursday. But she didn’t back down from sexism, even at the very end. She won’t be the first woman to serve as president, but her contributions to confronting sexism on the trail are a worthy piece of her legacy.

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