The billionaire ex-mayor of New York City isn’t done thinking about being president. Post Alley writers think about that
There must be something in the water in New York, since Michael Bloomberg is now doing the Hamlet act earlier perfected by Gov. Mario Cuomo. Will he or won’t he? I suspect he’s getting in, at least to test the water, and it might work. Once he opens the doors to late entrants, others may jump in, with former A-G Eric Holder one of the possibles. Woe is Joe.
Politico earlier this year, when Bloomberg was in the throes of deciding whether to run, produced a pretty good road map for his candidacy. He’d be a pro-business, centrist outlier for the new populism in the Democratic Party, but he would run on two issues with a lot of resonance for the base: climate change and gun control. These are issues well tested by Jay Inslee and Beto O’Rourke, and they certainly set Democrats’ hearts to beating. The issues are good, and Bloomberg would have an added appeal: he’s highly effective and therefore likely to make real progress on these issues.
Not to overlook the serious problems for an elderly (77 years old) white billionaire with a long and controversial record, but I think there are three other advantages Bloomberg could offer.
- One is that he seems more likely to defeat Trump than the rest of the field. No lacking of confidence in this New Yorker! Moreover, Mayor Mike lacks the baggage of being too far left or too inexperienced.
- The second advantage is he could appeal enough to Never Trump Republicans and moderate independents to be a unity candidate. Lord knows, the country is hungry for drawing the poison out of our paralyzed partisanship.
- The third, more problematic advantage is that Bloomberg says he will take no campaign contributions at all, simply funding his entire campaign. (What’s a spare billion dollars to him?) We’ve come to this: Only billionaires can be free from special interests!
Four postulates about a Bloomberg candidacy
- The essential lesson of 2016 is that virtually any celebrity has a non-zero chance of being elected president. The important question is whether Bloomberg’s celebrity is as big as his ego. Has he been a regular presence on prime time network TV since leaving office six years ago? No. Has he ever been a household name anywhere it counts, such as Wisconsin? No. Can his money buy him fame and support? Tom Steyer is testing that, and so far it seems that money gets you only so far, which is not enough.
- A Bloomberg race would be fun to watch for many reasons, including the potential for invidious comparisons with the Orange One. Which vastly overstates Trump’s net worth, no doubt. Still, as Maggie Haberman tweeted, “This will get under Trump’s skin as much as anything.”
- A Bloomberg run would be, as my father used to say in other contexts, Bad for the Jews.
- It’s difficult to recover from a Bret Stephens endorsement. If David Brooks chimes in, it’s all over.
Bloomberg Resolves Three Questions
It seems clear that Michael Bloomberg believes he has the answers to three questions that many of us have been asking for several months now.
- Are the three or even four front runners already settled? Bloomberg believes not. He thinks that those of us wishing and hoping for others like Klobuchar and Bullock (or Bloomberg) can press on with no fear of becoming irrelevant.
- Has Joe Biden suffered any damages from the Trump/Guiliani adventures in Ukraine? Bloomberg undoubtedly believes Hunter Biden’s previous position with Burisma Holdings is eyebrow raising. He wouldn’t be entering the race if he thought Joe Biden political strength is or will be formidable, and he knows Biden will be more vulnerable because of Trump’s collateral damage.
- Does her Medicare for All obsession weaken Elizabeth Warren? Bloomberg thinks Medicare for All is financially impossible. After Bloomberg filed in Alabama, Warren sent him a website link to her “policy plans that will make a huge difference for working people and are very popular.” A wild guess that Michael Bloomberg does not agree with that assessment.
It is not necessarily a bad thing that Bloomberg’s entry means we are still a long way from having a ticket.
Other factors to consider
He’d be first Jewish nominee and first Jewish president. Don’t know how much that matters any more, but it’s there. He’d be scrutinized over policy relative to Israel, which is considerably more fraught for Dems than it once was.
He’s associated with Wall Street. He wasn’t a hedge fund manager or investment banker, but his main business success came first by developing his proprietary information system for Wall Street portfolio managers and traders: the ubiquitous Bloomberg Screen. Now he’s a media mogul. Is he still involved in his news services?
He’s living with his long-term partner, a woman to whom he is not married. Maybe that doesn’t matter, but it would be another first.
Presumably he’ll cannibalize Biden and Buttigieg most: good news for Warren and Sanders. Look where climate and gun control got Inslee and O’Rourke.
His age is not a minor factor: he’s nine months older than Biden and five months younger than Sanders. A veritable gerontocracy. Historically, Dems win with charismatic youthful centrists such as FDR, JFK, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Obama. He doesn’t fit that pattern.