Tonight’s televised debate in Nevada will be of special interest to voters who are looking for a presidential candidate who brings something new to the Democratic field. which is another way of saying that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will pump up viewership for the event.
Bloomberg’s strengths as a candidate are impressive: He brings unprecedented financial resources to the campaign and he likes to spend it at a record pace. There will be no worries about his “burn” rate. He appears to be spending wisely, as indicated by his campaign’s extraordinary number of high-quality ads which provide the most plausible explanation for his significant bump in polls during the last month. (although lately I’ve been wondering if his ads will eventually meet the point of diminishing returns).
His wealth will also give him a top-quality staff. He will have a solid management team and campaign staff and offices everywhere it counts, good speeches, thorough research and daily briefings. He will be well-prepared tonight and ready to rumble every day.
Bloomberg also radiates confidence and focus, perhaps more than any other candidate. He really is the highly-successful, self-made business leader Trump pretends to be. This clearly scares the hell out of Trump, who also knows that Bloomberg probably has enough inside skinny on Trump’s history to do major damage.
Being a former Mayor of New York City is a pretty big deal, since the city has more people than 40 states. In terms of hands-on experience, Bloomberg has managed more budget dollars than all of his opponents.
Bloomberg will get lots of populist flack tonight for being a billionaire and for trying to ‘buy it.’ He will also get a lot of heat for comments he has allegedly made about women and people of color. Recordings of any such comments will have more impact than hearsay.
He will also be held to account for some of his policies as mayor, including ‘stop and frisk.’ This will be a test of how well he handles intense criticism, the sincerity of his apologies and how convincingly he articulates his capacity for positive change. His admirable support for gun safety reforms may end up hurting his campaign in key swing states.
Bloomberg’s most significant liabilities include his inexperience in connecting with working-class voters. As Harold Meyerson observed in the L. A. Times,
It’s hard to imagine a Democrat less able to win working-class votes — those of young black and Latino workers, and those of the white workers who swung the 2016 election to Trump. Minority voters are unlikely to look kindly on his mayoral record: intensifying stop-and-frisk, vetoing legislation that banned predatory lenders from doing business with the city, and opposing city legislation to raise the living wage. Now that he’s running for president he says he backs a minimum wage hike, but in 2014, he told Fox News, “I’ve always thought that this impetus to raise the minimum wage is one of the most misguided things we can do.”
For those white workers who pushed Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania into Trump’s column, Bloomberg is the personification of everything they can’t abide. On one hand, he’s perhaps America’s biggest-spending proponent of gun control and a prominent advocate for other socially liberal positions — those the right denigrates as heralding “the nanny state.”
Many white working-class voters gave Trump the benefit of the doubt in 2016, but it’s unclear if that pass is still good in 2020. There is also the thorny issue of globalized trade policy, which provides some ammo for Bloomberg’s opponents. As Meyerson notes, “he’s been a constant advocate for deepening economic globalization, for the very trade deals many American workers believed decimated manufacturing here. To this very day, he remains, with Henry Kissinger, the American public figure most supportive of the Chinese regime.” Further,
In each of the past two years, his company (Bloomberg LP) has hosted a conference highlighting China’s growing and indispensable role in the new world economy, and last year, the gathering was held in Beijing. Bloomberg has defended the Chinese Communist Party as quasi-democratic (“they listen to the public”) and when asked whether President Xi Jinping is a dictator, answered, “No, he has a constituency to answer to.”
Bloomberg’s interest in China is also financial. As Josh Rogin has reported in the Washington Post, Bloomberg LP doesn’t only sell its terminals there, but through the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index, it enables U.S. investors to buy Chinese bonds. Last year, Rogin noted, “the index began a 20-month plan to support 364 Chinese firms by directing an estimated $150 billion into their bond offerings, including 159 [companies] controlled directly by the Chinese government…This is the same government that subsidizes its steel industry, allowing it to undersell the American steel industry with devastating effect. It has done the same with solar panels, at a time the U.S. industry was gearing up…It’s Bloomberg, not Bernie, who’s the Manchurian candidate.”
It’s going to take some fancy footwork for Bloomberg to sidestep this minefield. How he handles this issue may determine his viability as a candidate.
Bloomberg will also take some heat for being a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ Democrat. But this hasn’t hurt Sen. Sanders much. Indeed, with the rising share of voters who self-i.d. as “independent,” it may be an asset for Bloomberg’s campaign.
All of this considered, Bloomberg may not have the right combination of assets needed to capture the Democratic nomination. But rest assured that he is all-in, if the trajectory of his career thus far is any indication. He will bring the fight to his adversaries, as well as Trump.
Meanwhile, Dems can take some comfort that Bloomberg has pledged to support the Democratic nominee after the convention, and hopefully that means financially, as well as verbally. And if his support extends generously to Democratic senate candidates, he may have a pivotal role in securing the 4 or more U.S. Senate pick-ups we need to prevent catastrophic Republican damage to the nation, regardless of who wins the White House. Whether he wins or loses the Democratic nomination, Bloomberg may have an historic contribution to make in redeeming our democracy.