Why you should care
Because the Democratic primary race just hit a new freakout phase.
The 77-year-old billionaire galloping into the presidential race represents one emotion above all: panic. Michael Bloomberg is the manifestation of the increasingly loud worries of Democrats that the current crop of some 16 presidential candidates doesn’t have what it takes to take out President Donald Trump.
So Bloomberg, the media magnate worth $52.4 billion, took a look at a wobbly former vice president and an untested young mayor taking up the center-left part of the primary field and decided he could do better. Spoiler: He can’t.
Yes, Bloomberg does have a capable record in public service over three terms as New York City’s mayor. (He pushed through a rules change to avoid a two-term limit.) And he lately has earned chits with the left by plowing huge sums into fighting for gun control and against climate change.
But let’s be real: There is no market for a centrist version of Tom Steyer among the Democratic primary electorate.
You thought Kamala Harris had problems from her prosecutorial record? Bloomberg is on record defending NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policies, which he credited for the city’s declining crime rates. There’s also the simple fact of his being one of the world’s richest people, amid increasing cries on the left that “billionaires shouldn’t exist.”
Policy-wise, Bloomberg has been generally pro-business and declared recently that “Xi Jinping is not a dictator” — a position increasingly out of step with both parties. The latter quote was circulating most prominently on the right following Thursday’s news that Bloomberg would file paperwork to become a candidate in Alabama (which has early filing deadlines) as he explores a full-scale Democratic run.
There are plenty of strategic problems for this late entry. (Yes, one year before the general election is late. Oh, to live in the U.K., where an election is called and completed in less than two months.)
He’s so far behind in organizing in early states that Bloomberg is sending signals he will skip them altogether to focus on big delegate hauls in places like Texas and California. It sounds reasonable, but given the way early state results shape voter perceptions and media coverage, it would be exceedingly difficult.
To not be forgotten then, Bloomberg would have to be on the debate stage. But he needs to secure 200,000 individual campaign donors and score above 4 percent in four national polls (or 6 percent in two early-state polls) to make the December Democratic debate. And yet, the Washington Post reported that Bloomberg doesn’t plan to raise any money for his campaign — funding it all himself.
Perhaps, like the race’s other self-funder Steyer, Bloomberg could buy his way onto the debate stage by spending tens of millions to reel in online small donors. But once there, does anyone really expect this technocrat to catch fire?
Not Trump. “He doesn’t have the magic to do well,” the president told White House reporters on Friday. “Little Michael will fail.”
That was the rare question he was happy to field. The impeachment saga will enter a new phase this coming week, with the first televised hearings to dramatize some rough facts for Trump. The picture is now clear that U.S. officials told Ukraine that it would need to announce an investigation into the Biden family in exchange for military aid or a White House visit for President Volodymyr Zelensky. Or, as the kids call it these days, a quid pro quo. Last week, Republican megadonor-turned-ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland confirmed this by amending his written testimony. Meanwhile, Tuesday’s elections brought a lot of bad news for Republicans, including losing the Kentucky governorship.
But Democrats remain in panic mode. Bed-wetting hit a fever pitch after a New York Times/Siena poll showed neck-and-neck races between Trump and the leading Democrats in the swing states that will decide the election, in defiance of national polls showing Trump way down. Party insiders are fretting about how newly crowned front-runner Elizabeth Warren — not to mention top-tier Bernie Sanders — is too far left to win swing voters. And the vultures are circling over former Vice President Joe Biden amid poor fundraising and verbal stumbles.
That’s why you see talk around everyone from Hillary Clinton to Disney CEO Bob Iger jumping in. (Or, in many Democrats’ wildest dreams, Michelle Obama.) This ignores the fact that anyone from Sen. Amy Klobuchar to Sen. Cory Booker to Gov. Steve Bullock could credibly occupy that center-left lane if Biden crumbles. Pick one and start a super PAC, maybe? If that’s not what Democratic voters want, force-feeding them Bloomberg isn’t going to work either.
And yet, it does seem like we’re living in bizarroland. Perhaps what America really needs in 2020 is two septuagenarian New York billionaires duking it out over who’s best at fighting for the little guy.