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.