It’s true. Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg donated a quarter million to the DNC; two days later, they announced a rules change for the February debate in Nevada to permit him on the stage. Joe Biden’s reply is classic: “He’s not even on the ballot in Nevada.” My own thought is somewhat more cynical: If the DNC could be bought so cheaply, why didn’t the Climate Debate people (or Tulsi!) pay them off sooner?
Of course it’s not that simple; these things never are — and I’ll get into that. But I also want to explain why it’s a serious mistake to discount Bloomberg as a candidate. If you’ve got the stomach for it, that is.
Be warned: You may never eat sausage again.
“The lack of politics over conscience is appalling.“
Darick Robertson, “Transmetropolitan” co-creator, on the impeachment
First, an historical note: Through the 1800s and until about 1930, any candidate who didn’t run on their own money was automatically suspect. Someone had to be paying for them to run, after all, and it was usually a party machine combined with special interests: the Sugar Trust, the railroads, oil… and most people just accepted that because it’s the way things were. Politicians were beholden and that was it; corruption was endemic, patronage was de rigour, and you were crazy to object.
Today it takes tens or even hundreds of millions to run even a primary campaign. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are doing so entirely from grassroots contributions, $200 at a time, in an effort to protest Wall Street’s influence on the candidates. Two billionaires — Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg — are self-funding, also for the same reason. It’s a tremendous personal sacrifice, not merely of money but of time and above all reputation, and it should be respected as such.
A cynic would say that Bloomberg, the 14th richest person in the world, actually is Wall Street, but that’s a mere quibble: He’s a successful businessman beholden to no one, the ultimate outsider. If the DNC is looking for someone to split Trump’s voter bloc, they need look no further. Bloomberg is tailor-made for the job.
“He’s not even on the ballot in Nevada.”
Joe Biden, former Vice President and Amtrak booster
Bloomberg’s late entry into the race is going to cost him delegates and momentum. Some will categorize this as a blunder, and perhaps it is. However, it’s hardly an unprecedented move; historically, a lot of successful candidacies skipped Iowa entirely — like Bill Clinton in ’92. While the headlines will skewer either Biden or Bernie for failing to win, the news story about Bloomberg will be his surprising out-of-nowhere percentage. And — let’s face it: Steyer’s campaign is a joke right now precisely because he began it when he did.
Don’t forget: Mayor Bloomberg is a highly skilled politician. He’s been directly involved in every presidential campaign since Bush, using his influence judiciously and contributing cash to both sides in just the right places to swing the balance. One of his scandals was a 2009 campaign finance violation that snuck money through an Independence Party account into GOP operative John Haggerty’s hands, and we still don’t know the truth about it.
“He’s got some personal problems.”
Donald Trump, fellow New Yorker, on Bloomberg’s candidacy
All of this has been interesting, no doubt, but what does it have to do with Bloomberg the candidate? What does he stand for? Why is he running?
When asked, his response is simple: He’s running to beat Trump. His positions on the issues are remarkably bland; his ad blitz glosses over that part and for good reason. He is, after all, an ex-Republican. Bloomberg is a moderate on most things, and he echoes the platform of the centrist core of the party — which, in the end, explains why the present party management supports him: Aside from Biden and perhaps Klobuchar, he’s the only one in the race who isn’t espousing any sudden drastic changes.
Don’t mistake me here: Bloomberg has all the doctrinally correct answers. He’s very Pro-Choice; he’s in favor of Common Sense Gun Control and Criminal Justice Reform. He’s even gone so far as to apologize for the “Stop And Frisk” policy he instituted as mayor. The man is ideologically correct and up-to-date; people who are religiously Democrat need have no fear of heresy.
But he isn’t endorsing massive gun seizures overnight. He doesn’t want Medicare For All in his first hundred days but rather an enriched and expanded government insurance plan coupled with gradual reform. He wants stable markets and a robust economy and, if possible, tax cuts — taxes are a “necessary evil”, he says. If this sounds a lot like Mitt Romney, that’s because you’re paying attention.
“To me, fiscal conservatism means balancing budgets – not running deficits that the next generation can’t afford. It means improving the efficiency of delivering services by finding innovative ways to do more with less. It means cutting taxes when possible and prudent to do so…”
Michael Bloomberg, 2007 speech
The bottom line, remember, is that the ideological cores of both major parties aren’t very far apart. They pretend for the cameras and they denounce each other on the news, but when push comes to shove, they don’t actually believe what they preach. If they did, Obama would have pushed through Medicare For All when he controlled House, Senate, and the Oval all at once, and Trump would have outlawed Roe v Wade his first day in office. They all pay lip service to the radical fringe — the GOP to the religious, the DNC to the socialists — but at the end of the day they vote for the status quo.
Which is why Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy is not to be dismissed lightly. He appeals to the vast center, which is about seventy percent of the electorate and ninety-five percent of the politicians. Besides: A few hundred million can buy an awful lot of TV ads.
“This is not a novel to be lightly tossed aside. It should be thrown with great force.”
either Dorothy Parker or Sid Ziff