A year ago, Democrats likely would not have paid much attention if former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had thrown his hat in the ring as a presidential candidate, slogged through the debates, hit the campaign trail and done what any candidate must generally do to win the presidency (the current occupant of the White House aside): earned it. More than likely, he would have been viewed similarly to the likes of long shots Rep. Tim Ryan, Gov. Jay Inslee or fellow New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — as a blip on the radar.
But now, after almost a year of campaigning and four debates, when the news came that Bloomberg had moved to join the race, my eyes rolled back in my head so far that they probably rotated 360 degrees. In this era’s Democratic Party, which is increasingly fueled by young, diverse and progressive voices, evidently, exactly what we need is a white male septuagenarian billionaire. Thank God for Michael Bloomberg!
I jest, but Bloomberg 2020 is a really bad idea. What, possibly, is missing from the primary that Bloomberg thinks he could contribute? The primary is competitive and crowded, and in head-to-head matchups, multiple candidates have been projected to beat President Donald Trump handily. Democrats already have multiple advocates for stricter gun safety regulation (Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, former Housing & Urban Development secretary Julian Castro) and the Green New Deal (Warren, Booker, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris), which are Bloomberg’s top issues. If, for some mysterious reason, what voters really want is another septuagenarian in office, we already have three to choose from (Warren, Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden). There are also three current or past mayors (Castro, Booker, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg). Neither does the field lack a billionaire (Tom Steyer), nor several millionaires.
And non-multimillionaire-donor Democrats don’t want or need a Bloomberg candidacy — they are, on average, historically happy with their field of choices. In July, the Pew Research Center found that 65% of Democrats had an “excellent” or “good” impression of the candidates. Only 5% had a “poor” impression. In 2015, just 51% of Democrats had an unambiguously positive view of the field. Democrats are about as happy now as they were in 2007, when Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards led the primary.
Further, most primary polls that include Bloomberg have calculated his support to be somewhere between zero and two percent — essentially, the margin of error. And he looks to be kneecapping his own candidacy from the start. First of all, due to the nature of filing deadlines, some have suggested that Bloomberg skip the early primary and caucus states and instead spend immense amounts of money campaigning the Super Tuesday states. He also has expressed that he plans to self-fund his campaign, but if he doesn’t seek small donors, he won’t be eligible for debates. If a candidate isn’t debating or campaigning in early states, it’s difficult to see how they could have any future at all.
As much as I question the advisability of Bloomberg’s likely presidential campaign, I believe that his dedication to causes such as reducing gun violence and reversing climate change is probably sincere. If that is in fact the case, there are many ways in which Bloomberg could use his vast wealth to restore democracy and protect the country from racist con men — ways that would be far more effective than a shot-in-the-dark, vanity-run for president.
He could buy Fox News (I’m serious). It’s a toxic dumpster fire that scarcely deserves to be called “journalism,” and it’s fanned the flames of xenophobia and insulated a manifestly unfit president from scrutiny. Imagine fact-based cable TV news that adhered stridently to the facts and clearly labeled its conservative bent as opinion.
He could donate billions to efforts to fix our broken democracy — automatic and same-day voter registration, objective bipartisan electoral redistricting and fighting racist voter ID laws come to mind as worthy causes. More straightforwardly, he could spend a few of his $52 billion supporting one of the many worthy presidential candidates in our current field or down-ballot races against Republican incumbents.
At this point, it appears likely that a nascent Bloomberg candidacy will flame out quickly (if it even gets off the ground). Current Democratic contenders should stay the course and keep focused on beating the other billionaire New Yorker in the race. Michael Bloomberg can take a hike.