The remaining Democratic candidates (apart from Tulsi Gabbard) will be down in Charleston, South Carolina this evening, for the 10th primary debate. All eyes will be on former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, as he tries to put a torrid performance in last week’s debate in Vegas behind him.
Bloomberg has been amping up his attacks on front-runner Bernie Sanders ahead of tonight’s clash: criticizing the record on guns, having his surrogates bring up Sanders’s strange creative writing and impyling that acts of vandalism against Bloomberg field offices are the work of jacked-up Bernie bros.
This marks a change in tack from the Bloomberg campaign, who until recently had largely ignored the Democratic field and invited voters to measure Mike against Trump directly. Other than a height difference of around half a foot, what else might the electorate glean from directly comparing Trump and Bloomberg?
Cockburn will start by noting the obvious: both men have spent most of their lives in New York, been members of both Democratic and Republican parties, and enjoy playing golf (sometimes with each other).
But Mini Mike also shares some of the Donald’s less favorable traits. Let’s start with local politics: Bloomberg has been criticized most in this primary campaign for his reinstatement of ‘stop and frisk’, a policy that overwhelmingly and unfairly targeted black and Latino men. Trump, meanwhile, arguably announced himself as a political figure in 1989 when he called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five — five black and Latino teenagers, who, it turns out, were wrongly accused of the rape and assault of a white woman.
Then there’s their actions towards Muslims. In his 2016 speech to the Democratic National Convention — two years before he rejoined the party — Bloomberg said:
‘Truth be told, the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy. He wants you to believe that we can solve our biggest problems by deporting Mexicans and shutting out Muslims. He wants you to believe that erecting trade barriers will bring back good jobs. He’s wrong on both counts.’
Where was this indignant Islamophile in the decade after 9/11? Oh, that’s right: using the NYPD to surveil Muslim Americans in a program some have described as ‘Stasi-like’.
Trump has been lambasted for kowtowing to foreign rulers: he’s too chummy with Putin, with Kim, with Bibi, with MBS, and his business dealings are too tied up overseas. But if you think Donald prostrates himself at the feet of other leaders, imagine how a President Bloomberg would behave on the world stage: a man who has said Chinese president Xi Jinping (or, as Joe Biden would call him, Deng Xiaoping) is ‘no dictator’ and whose media company has killed stories that might anger the PRC. Also Bloomberg has described Emmanuel Macron as ‘the strongest leader in Europe at the moment’, which suggests Bloomberg possesses a certain Trumpian ability to invent his own reality.
Trump came under fire in March 2017 for binding women like Karen McDougal and Stephanie ‘Stormy Daniels’ Clifford into non-disclosure agreements in order to conceal information about his affairs with them. Bloomberg, as viewers of the ninth Democratic debate will know, was under pressure from other candidates to release former employees from NDAs. Elizabeth Warren went so far as to brandish a release and covenant not to sue she’d drawn up in a CNN town hall.
Trump and Bloomberg share an enthusiasm for the ladies. But rather than revisiting their more general history of colorful comments about the fairer sex — from ‘grab her by the pussy’ (Don) to ‘look at the ass on her’ (Mike) — Cockburn would rather get specific, and focus on weird stuff the pair have said about their daughters. On The View in 2006, Trump said ‘if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.’ As recently as 2015, he told a Rolling Stone reporter ‘Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…’
These comments have been widely interpreted as sordid and wrong. Yet take a look at this WIRED profile of Bloomberg from 1999:
‘“My daughter is tall and busty and blonde,” Michael Bloomberg is telling a table of Boston College graduates. “We went to China together. And what’s a 16-year-old going to do on a business trip?” He pops another carefully buttered piece of bread in his mouth. “So I got her dates in every city in China.” Remembering that I’m also at the table, he glares in my direction. “That’s off the record!” he barks. It’s typical Mike Bloomberg, wanting to have it both ways: imperious man of the people, coarse billionaire, earthy business leader, accessible control freak.’
Cockburn can only wonder what the locker-room talk on Trump and Bloomberg’s golf trips was like.
For all the progressive carping and moral indignation of the last five years, it would be entertaining to see the Democrats favor Bloomberg, who seems to be more Trumpy than Donald himself ever was. But are the DNC desperate enough to stop Scandi-style socialism that they’ll pretend to like Trump’s mirror image? We can only wait and see.