Donald Dossier: Follow the Money - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because Democrats have an uneasy relationship with money, and it will affect how they take on Trump.

In the age of Donald Trump, there’s little point in subtext. The president spent the last week and a half on a post-impeachment revenge tour, booting the members of his administration who had testified against him and urging the Justice Department to go easier on his pal Roger Stone.

And the wildly unsettled Democratic field to take Trump on — which our exclusive Forecast now projects has a coin-flip chance of a contested convention — is shedding any pretense of what this is all about: cold hard cash — and whether that’s a good thing.

North Carolina was ground zero for the money talks primary last week as it started early voting ahead of Super Tuesday, and hosted the two campaigns that could most afford to look ahead. On Thursday, Mike Bloomberg toured the state, winding up in Raleigh’s train station for a rally that had general election-level staging, with a huge mass of national press and staffers swarming about. Bloomberg has more than 125 paid staff in North Carolina alone, his campaign boasts, out of some 2,100 nationally. He’s paying them lavishly — $6,000 per month for a low-level field staffer, according to The Intercept.  

The world’s ninth-richest person with a $63 billion net worth, Bloomberg is not shy about spending it. His entirely self-funded campaign announced Tuesday it would double its spending to roughly $600 million on ads alone. For context, Trump spent $322 million total to win the White House in 2016, a mere $66 million of which was from his own pocket.

From atop a mighty platform, Bloomberg comes off a bit wooden and out of practice, with more than one verbal miscue, and not all of his jokes land. But in pitching himself as the “un-Trump,” the crowd lapped up his zingers — particularly about how Trump inherited millions from his developer father, while “I’m self-made.”

But that was about the only reference to his business career becoming the information source to the financial world. Bloomberg focused more on his record as New York City mayor. While Republican voters are drawn toward a message of private sector success and “running the government like a business,” Democrats remain largely uneasy with big money — particularly big money in politics.

“It takes enormous gall to throw your money around that hard,” says Rashad Brown, a 31-year-old bartender who attended a Bernie Sanders rally in Durham, North Carolina, on Friday. “It just kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

A few minutes later, Sanders bounded onstage and thundered: “There is something wrong when we have a corrupt political system that allows billionaires to buy elections!” Sanders is just fine talking about his fundraising though. An eye-popping 1.5 million people have donated money to his campaign. His river of cash swelled to $25 million in January alone. Bloomberg money it’s not, but the small-donor force — who can be re-tapped as time goes on without hitting their legally mandated cap — are what will keep Sanders in this for as long as he likes.

The money is a big reason why Sanders and Bloomberg appear to be on a collision course. Putting aside the fact that both are only nominally associated with the Democratic Party — having long held office as independents — each would love the other as his only primary foil. It suits the candidate who vows to take on “the whole damn 1 percent!” and the one who’s eager to become a pragmatic home for all those Democrats who are wary of socialism. A growing number of members of Congress, for example, are endorsing or at least becoming Bloomberg-curious as former vice president Joe Biden fades from the scene.

Meanwhile, Trump is stocking cash at unprecedented rates — $60 million in January between his campaign and the Republican National Committee, so there’s no need to risk a dime of his own money this time. He derides Bloomberg’s small stature on Twitter, a signal in itself of the former mayor’s rise.

Among Trump’s other hometown political enemies are New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. Ahead of a meeting, Trump tweeted that Cuomo “must stop all unnecessary lawsuits and harassment,” as the Trump administration halted certain trusted traveler programs for New Yorkers that allow easier reentry from abroad. That “harassment” includes investigations into the Trump Organization and a long-running effort to make Trump’s tax returns public.

It’s the money trail Trump has long fought to keep private — calculating that the public doesn’t much care about his financial transparency. And besides, cash stacks are one area where Bloomberg does stand taller than Trump. We’ll soon find out what that buys him.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!