Why You Should Care that Mike Bloomberg Will Spend $1 Billion on Failing to Get the Democratic Presidential Nomination

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Image: Flickr

Secretly, Mike Bloomberg either really likes Bernie Sanders or really dislikes Joe Biden.

Let me go out on a very short limb and make the following prediction: Mike Bloomberg is not going to be the next president of the United States. But his late entry into the Democratic nomination contest — accompanied with an unprecedented television and digital advertising blitz — may siphon enough votes from Joe Biden to make Sanders the Democratic nominee. Which would be more than a little ironic, since the ostensible goal of Bloomberg’s quixotic campaign is supposedly to keep Sanders or Elizabeth Warren from getting the nomination.

Bloomberg, an old, white, male, patrician billionaire who isn’t exactly fluent in the present day identitarian and class conscious language of Democratic politics, isn’t going to win, but between now and Super Tuesday he is going to share the wealth and raise many boats by making a lot of political consultants and campaign hacks — in less than two months since he announced, his campaign has already swelled to more than 800 paid staffers — a LOT richer. Looking at the public filings shows that Bloomberg’s campaign is a political consultants’ feeding frenzy. Everyone involved is getting paid not just top dollar, but a substantial premium above top dollar. Mike is going to war backed by an army of mercenaries with dollar signs in their eyes. 

Between the saturation level TV advertising, the massive digital media buys, and the ballooning payroll for his campaign’s ever-growing staff — the campaign’s Washington State hires were just announced a few days ago — the former New York City mayor is apparently on pace to spend more than $1 billion of his own money by Super Tuesday in early March. And none of it is at all likely to get him out of the single digits in the polling. 

Add on top of that Bloomberg’s interesting, but unorthodox and untested, strategy of entirely skipping the four early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, where the other candidates have been concentrating their efforts for more than a year) to focus on the states that vote after (where he owns the airwaves since none of the other candidates are advertising in those places yet). It’s really a Hail Mary, one that doesn’t have much realistic chance of succeeding (as I finish writing this, I see that others are coming to the same conclusion). Presumably by South Carolina, one or a couple or several of the other candidates is going to have a lot of momentum going into the Super Tuesday voting, and whatever limited firewall of support Bloomberg’s ad blitz will have built up for him by then will likely crumble. 

Don’t get me wrong: I like Bloomberg and think he’d make a decent, caretaker sort of president if he somehow got elected. After four years of the chaos and idiocy of Trump, restoring baseline competence and steadiness to governance is nothing to sneeze at. And his heart seems to be in the right place — his pledge to keep spending on efforts to defeat Trump even if he’s not the nominee is welcome.

But it’s his head I question. Even if he somehow does secure the nomination, I doubt that, against Trump, he’d be the shoo in some more moderate pundits seem to think. While his head-to-head polling numbers aren’t bad right now, Bloomberg has more vulnerability than may appear at first glance, certainly more than Joe Biden.

In terms of the elusive calculus of electability, in fact, he may be just as risky a candidate as Sanders, though for reasons of cultural affinity more than than ideology. He’s easily attacked and caricatured as a condescending Nanny State liberal paternalist from New York — the sort of eat your vegetables (and tax your sodas) scold that a lot of swing voters dislike — and his outspoken activism on gun restrictions could also limit his appeal to less educated small town and rural voters. And if you think Mayor Pete’s problem connecting with minorities is serious, Bloomberg’s is likely worse. As mayor he famously supported “stop and frisk” policing even though it disproportionately targeted minorities, and while he has had a timely conversion on the road to Damascus, coming out just prior to jumping into the race to say he was wrong about that controversial policy, he still has a deep hole to dig out from with those voters.

Anyway, assessing his viability as a general election candidate is little more than an empty parlor game, given that his chances of actually getting nomination are less than slim and only slightly more than none. Like Tom Steyer, he is going to learn the hard way that money can only get you so far in politics. But practically every vote he does secure between now and Super Tuesday is a vote that otherwise would have gone to Joe Biden, who continues to be (by far) the most plausible alternative to Sanders. So in his hubris, Mike may well be running a spoiler campaign that torpedos Uncle Joe and hands the nomination to Bernie. That would be ironic, yes, and — hello, second Trump term — perhaps tragic as well.

7 COMMENTS

  1. One of the editors for The Resistor’s Companion asked, who are these 800 people working for Bloomberg and where did they come from? All the best people interested in working on a Democratic campaign have already been doing so for the last year or two, right? So do you have any thoughts on where these 800 expert paid staffers actually came from?

    • I don’t know much about the 300-odd folks who are operating out of Bloomberg HQ in Midtown Manhattan. Bloomberg’s had some smart consultants working on his mayoral campaigns; I assume some of the same folks are overseeing this effort.

      I should also disclose that a few weeks ago a friend in DC who had just been hired by the Bloomberg campaign asked informally if I had any interest in being considered for a comms role on the WA State campaign; I thought about it (briefly), but said no. I don’t see a realistic pathway for him to win, so long as Biden is in the race, and life’s too short to work on campaigns you don’t believe in.

      At the state level, including here in WA State, there are plenty of seasoned and talented campaign operatives who have signed on to Team Bloomberg. The state campaign manager is a senior aide to King County Councilmember Joe McDermott; an experienced former Patty Murray staffer is helping to pull together the local team, and so on.

  2. I’m not sure Sanders is the shoo-in candidate, regardless of Bloomberg. This is a year of the women, and there are two still in the race. We’ll see how it breaks out on Super Tuesday, but I wonder if we will see the first brokered nomination in many years. There is no consensus at this point and if none remains after Super Tuesday, we are in for a free-for-all convention. I’ve been to five Demo conventions and never seen a brokered one; but if there is one, Bernie will not be the nominee.

    • Let me state for the record that I have no idea which of the four (or maybe five) leading candidates is going to emerge with the nomination. That said, while a brokered convention is possible, I suppose, my guess is that it is still unlikely. More probably, the race will consolidate pretty fast as we go through the four early states. Lesser candidates will fall by the wayside and race will turn into a head-to-head battle between two of the candidates, most plausibly Biden (or possibly Buttigieg) vs. Sanders (or possibly Warren). That sort of rapid sorting has been the tendency in Dem nomination battles in the past, anyway. For example, there were a lot of seemingly strong candidates going into the Iowa caucuses in 2004 too (Kerry, Dean, Edwards, Gephardt, Kucinich, Clark) but that race sorted out fast once the voting started.

  3. My worry is that Sanders will be the mirror-equivalent of Barry Goldwater in 1964, losing badly but somehow galvanizing the Left into a new, ideological, punishing force in the Democratic Party. A second term of Trump will only energize this massive transformation of the Democratic Party. Another factor: about 40% of Bernie-or-Bust supporters decline to say they will support whomever the Democrats nominate (for supporters of other candidates, it’s more like 90%). So, nominating Bernie is one form of party-torpedoeing, while NOT nominating Bernie is another path to immolation. Nor do I see a broadly appealing candidate emerging from the four-corner standoff, any more than the Republicans were able to solve the Trump run to the nomination. All this gets me more depressed than watching the Senate wimp out.

  4. I share Sandeep’s worry about Sanders emerging as the front runner before Super Tuesday but not the view that Bloomberg’s entry is a bad thing. His ads are very effective and provide the rising tide of exposing Trump incompetence that lifts all Democratic boats. I’m confident that Bloomberg will support whatever Dem gets the nomination to prevent the kind of sore-loser behavior of Bernie supporters that cost Hillary just enough of the vote in 2016 to put the Orange One in the White House. And I think Floyd is right that there is a powerful lobby for a woman nominee which, in the event neither Amy nor Elizabeth gets the nomination, could be mobilized for a Biden-Klobuchar/Harris/Warren or Bloomberg-K/H/W ticket. Plus, I think Sanders’s “surge” is being fueled by Republican donations by Trumpers who see him as the easiest to defeat and by Russian trolls who want four more years of chaos.

  5. Bloomberg only becomes a viable candidate — as opposed to a spoiler who divides the moderate progressive vote and therefore boosts left activists like Sanders — if Biden collapses in the early voting. Now that we’re on the morning of the Iowa caucuses, I’m getting increasingly nervous that that is a real possibility. If Biden does poorly tonight, and then underwhelms in New Hampshire (where the polling has not been great for him, and Sanders has been consistently leading), maybe then Biden’s support nationally plummets, creating an opening for one of the others (including Bloomberg) to emerge as the anti-Sanders (or anti-Warren).

    Assuming for a moment that the race turns into a Sanders-Bloomberg battle, the problem, then, is that I doubt Bloomberg wins that fight. And even if he does, he could cripple the party in the process, creating major problems in the general election. There’s already a huge backlash brewing within the party’s left wing about the DNC changing the rules for debate qualification to allow Bloomberg to participate — the optics of that really do look bad, particularly since calls for changing the debate rules from former candidates of color like Castro fell on deaf ears.

    There’s already enough resistance to Biden within the party’s left activist wing to cause concern about his ability to consolidate the party going into the general election, but that is far less than the resistance to Bloomberg that will emerge should he become the nominee.

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