Mike Bloomberg publicly admitted just a few years ago that he ‘couldn’t win’ the presidency because his political program would never be salable to a mass national constituency. What changed? Certainly not the fundamental desires of the electorate — which is still overwhelmingly uninterested in a Bloomberg-style governing agenda of shallow corporatized cultural liberalism, technocratic fealty to Wall Street, and veneration of unnamed ‘experts’ who will ‘get it done’ under Mike’s lifeless stewardship.
No, what’s changed is that Mike Bloomberg has identified a constituency into which he really can tap: older voters petrified at the prospect of another Trump term in office. These voters also happen to watch a disproportionate amount of TV, so they receptively absorb the hundreds of millions of dollars in commercials Bloomberg has force-fed into their cognitive systems, at a scale unprecedented in the history of US electoral politics. Over less than three months, he has already poured $401 million and counting into his campaign — which for his purposes is basically chump change. The latest estimate of Bloomberg’s net worth is $62.8 billion, according to Forbes; the sum he could still spend without even batting an eye is staggering.
In essence, this is why Bloomberg’s communications strategy has focused thus far on voraciously bashing Trump day after day: because lots of people do want incessant Trump-bashing, ideally in the form of well-produced ads and cute slogans presented by a man who has promised to spend literally billions of dollars of his own money to beat Trump. Bloomberg clearly knows (again, he has admitted this publicly) that his political vision alone — which in the abstract would be despised by much of the country — will never suffice to generate widespread voter enthusiasm. So he’s concealing that vision for as long as possible, and instead hammering nonstop at Trump’s perceived character flaws in order to win over a critical mass of the jittery Democratic primary electorate. There is a certain type of paranoid liberal of advanced age who rejoices when he or she sees those sleek Bloomberg ads with chipper music in the background making fun of Trump’s performance on the golf course. (And Bloomberg should know first-hand, as he and Trump are former golf buddies.)
Bloomberg made his astronomical fortune by providing data analytics services to the finance industry. Whatever scarily well-resourced proprietary polling operation he’s got going now doubtless relayed to him that running purely on the strength of his political program would be a total nonstarter, because his political program — best described as smug, culturally liberal, New York City corporate authoritarianism — has negligible appeal among the broad swath of American voters. Hence, put that on the back-burner and position yourself as the chief nemesis to Trump. At least for now, phase one of his plan is working. And it would not be hyperbolic to call the plan he’s in the process of executing the most large-scale oligarchic intervention in US electoral politics…ever.
The latest public polls do show Bloomberg rising considerably; he leads in Virginia, Florida, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. But there’s a reason even Trump has acknowledged that Bernie Sanders would be a vastly more formidable general election competitor. ‘Frankly, I’d rather run against Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders,’ Trump said last week. ‘Because Sanders has real followers, whether you like him or not, whether you agree with him or not. I happen to think it’s terrible what he says. But he has followers. Bloomberg’s just buying his way in.’
Trump correctly realizes that a candidate with a real grassroots support base, as is obviously the case with Sanders, would be much harder to run against than Bloomberg — whose primary means of earning support is to simply purchase it. Comically, Bloomberg has now joined the chorus of bad-faith complainers fussing about the supposed scourge of the ‘Bernie Bros’, the vehement Sanders faithful who defend him relentlessly on social media. These stupid complaints are a form of projection. Other candidates would kill for an organic internet army of the magnitude that Sanders has amassed: it reflects real enthusiasm, and translates into real-world political action. And Bernie doesn’t need to offer free, lavishly catered food to get it.
Bloomberg has also admitted in the very recent past that he couldn’t win the nomination of a major party because he’d have to invent a fake persona in order to succeed. ‘You can’t pretend to be something you’re not…so you can’t win a primary, because there you gotta go and pretend you’re one side, and then move back to the other.’ Is this proof that in this current campaign he is ‘pretending’? You can accuse Bernie Sanders of many things, but you generally can’t accuse him of feigning political views that he does not hold. However many billions Bloomberg is willing to blow, his naked opportunism would be trivially easy for Trump to exploit.
Should Bloomberg successfully acquire the nomination, it will cripple faith in the Democratic party writ large — already at rock-bottom for many of Bernie’s most die-hard backers. Despite pretensions to not be soliciting high-dollars donors for his self-funded campaign, Bloomberg is in fact soliciting high-dollar donors — except he’s directing them to contribute money to the Democratic National Committee, rather than to him. This is just one facet of his strategy to effectuate what is essentially a creepy leveraged buyout of the Democratic party apparatus. Days before his campaign launch, he gave a combined $800,000 to the DNC and state Democratic parties. He surely would have given plenty more if not for campaign finance limitations. The suspicions about what exactly is going on behind the scenes here are justifiably growing.
Magically, the DNC subsequently changed their debate rules to accommodate Bloomberg, who no longer has to meet any grassroots donor threshold to qualify — criteria which had been in place for almost a year — and will appear (we are told) at the next debate tonight in Nevada. This is especially galling because the DNC loves to boast about how committed they are to diversity and inclusion, but have repeatedly jiggered their debate rules to allow for the inclusion of ‘old white male’ billionaires (Bloomberg and lesser billionaire Tom Steyer) — while scurrilously excluding, say, a woman of color combat veteran, Tulsi Gabbard. If nothing else, the frenzied rush to bend over backwards for Bloomberg reveals the identity-based posturing of establishment liberals to be an utter farce.
Bloomberg could very well implode when actually put under direct pressure, which he has so far studiously avoided. Unlike most other candidates — who have spent months and months taking confrontational questions at town halls, submitting to adversarial media interviews, and engaging with their colleagues on a national debate stage — Bloomberg has hidden behind the veneer of a well-crafted marketing campaign. He is an arrogant and petty person; presumably that will soon be exposed.
We don’t even yet have the vocabulary to describe the dangers of what Bloomberg is attempting to do, because nothing like it has never been attempted before. In the years preceding his campaign launch, he had already co-opted huge sections of the Democratic party activist infrastructure in his capacity as a post-mayoral ‘philanthropist’. If this is the recipe required to win the presidency — running not on a policy agenda that responds to what people actually want, but by leveraging his almost incomprehensibly enormous wealth — how could anyone have even the slightest confidence that he’d be responsive to popular will while in office? For all the histrionic bloviating about the destruction of ‘norms’ during Trump’s tenure, Bloomberg’s gambit is a much bigger threat to democratic legitimacy.
And that’s assuming he could even win against Trump — which is already extremely doubtful, because should he seize the nomination from Bernie Sanders, the Democratic party will descend into furious internal strife of a magnitude not seen in decades, if ever. Their prospects for beating Trump would crater; the convention in Milwaukee will resemble a left-wing rebellion war zone. Bloomberg — for all his effort to exude cool-headed competence and detached managerial wisdom — is a true chaos agent.