Mike Bloomberg has yet to appear in a Democratic Party presidential debate and did not earn any delegates in Iowa or New Hampshire. Despite this, and according to the results of a recent Quinnipiac national poll, the billionaire and former mayor of New York City is polling third among Democrats, overtaking Elizabeth Warren for that position and trailing Joe Biden by a mere two percentage points for second.
As it would seem then, we need to acknowledge that Bloomberg is a legitimate candidate in the Democratic Party primary. In doing so, we also should recognize he’s a terrible candidate and nominating him runs the risk of handing the presidency to Donald Trump for a second time.
In service of his late-start bid to capture the nomination, Michael Bloomberg has spent tens of millions going on hundreds of millions of dollars of his personal finances, pouring money into advertisements, field organizer salaries, and Internet meme campaigns (really), among other things. If his ascendancy in polls is any indication, the strategy is paying off so far.
Then again, Bloomberg’s newfound prominence in the 2020 presidential race is certainly tied to presumptions of his electability as a “sensible” moderate. For what it’s worth, this comes part and parcel with the notion he hasn’t faced the same scrutiny as other candidates by sitting out the early contests and because people unfamiliar with New York City politics might not be aware of what happened during Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor.
As with Joe Biden, the once-presumptive nominee who has seen his electoral prospects dip following disappointing fourth- and fifth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, Mike Bloomberg’s record, when viewed more closely, tells a problematic tale for many Democratic Party supporters and outside observers. This is all before we get to his current level of spending, which seems all too emblematic of the issue of money in politics that so many rank-and-file voters profess is a problem.
In a piece for the UK’s Independent, journalist Lauren Duca warns that Bloomberg doesn’t just want to buy memes—he wants to buy your principles. To this effect, she wonders from what some people see as the needed antidote to someone like Bernie Sanders is really saving us.
Duca’s consideration of Michael Bloomberg’s profligate spending forms the basis of her op-ed arguing against a man derided by progressive voters as an oligarch, but this is not to say she neglects other troubling elements of his profile. By this token, that he has used his money to try to obscure those unsavory bits of his legacy speaks to the gravity of his increased visibility as a presidential candidate.
For one, contrary to his insistence that he inherited the practice from his predecessor, Bloomberg didn’t just continue the racist policy of stop-and-frisk from the previous administration—he accelerated it. In fact, as recently as last month, he was defending his administration’s emphasis on a practice that was carried out in an unconstitutional manner as ruled by a federal judge. This defense came, strangely enough, amid a public apology for the incidence of stop-and-frisk during his tenure and NYC mayor. Very clearly, Bloomberg is speaking out of both sides of his mouth on this front.
If you were thinking or hoping that was the sum total of Mike Bloomberg’s complicated history on race relations, think or hope again. Bloomberg additionally once blamed the late-2000s financial crisis on the end of redlining, a discriminatory lending practice which targets people and families of color. The former mayor, a reflexive Israel apologist who excused 2014 Israel airstrikes in Gaza that killed thousands of Palestinian children along the lines of Israel’s “right to defend itself,” too defended the surveillance of Muslims in and around New York during his tenure. In a primary race that has seen the ethnic diversity of the participants wane as the field winnows, that’s a potential liability.
But wait—there’s more. Though Duca doesn’t go into it, on top of Bloomberg’s bigoted remarks and past practices, there is also a history of misogyny for which he has apologized. As the head of his namesake company, he is alleged to have made numerous disparaging comments about women’s appearances and for presiding over a sexist workplace environment that was hostile toward pregnant women, a company which fielded four separate discrimination/sexual harassment suits in two years in the 1990s. Just Google “Mike Bloomberg I’d do her” and see for yourself. If the plan is to fight fire with misogynistic fire, the Democrats (unfortunately) have their man in Bloomberg.
And again, we still haven’t really explored the concept of Michael Bloomberg using his considerable fortune to try to buy the nomination, saturating regional markets with television ads and green-lighting a meme campaign that would appear to be destined to fail with voters disinterested in disingenuity, notably younger voters, but nonetheless has garnered considerable attention by the press (and according to Facebook, is totes kewl despite a previous prohibition on Instagram on the use of branded content by political campaigns). So far, critics have derided the latter strategy in particular as a failing attempt to make Bloomberg seem relatable, but until all the receipts are in, who knows?
These are the messages we’re intended to see, moreover. Though a matter of public record, Bloomberg’s political donations and the endorsements they effectively buy should give us pause. Several congressional Democrats and mayors who have endorsed Bloomberg’s campaign received millions in contributions from super PACs linked to him for their own bids for public office. Of course, one can’t prove these politicians are endorsing Bloomberg simply because they received donations authored by Bloomberg’s checkbook. At the same time, however, you can’t rule the possibility out.
Duca, wondering if establishment Democrats “stand for anything other than gaining power,” closes her column with these thoughts:
The sickness ailing our political process is not only the racist criminal presiding over our nation, but a system that has effectively silenced the majority of the public, while money screams loud enough to bend national attention to its will. To run Bloomberg against Trump is, to my mind, to swap one demagogue for another. The only significant difference in their respective relationships to capitalism and racism seems to be more to be a matter about how open they are about using public resources to prioritize white citizens.
This primary is a chance for the Democratic Party to truly stand up for the equality it has always professed to prioritize. Otherwise, we will remain confined by a political system that is content to win power by nominating a meme of Mr Monopoly.
It does seem absurd that in 2020, the election year after 2016 saw a rejection of traditional political norms in the elevation of a faux-populist in Donald Trump to the presidency and of a democratic socialist in Bernie Sanders, we could potentially be heading to a clash of old white male billionaires with separate track records of controversial conduct and public statements. These men tout not being beholden to special interests. But as Jumaane Williams, New York City Public Advocate, points out, the boast that “you can’t be bought” rings hollow when you’re the one doing the buying.
Bloomberg is trying to buy the Democratic Party nomination. What’s worse, the Democratic Party establishment appears content to let him do so.
We need to beat Trump. Vote blue no matter who. We need to beat Trump. Vote blue no matter who.
In reading online replies to commentary from anguished leftists and others sympathetic to the Dems’ cause in wonderment that no one seems to care that Michael Bloomberg is setting out to nakedly subvert democratic principles, I’ve encountered a fair amount of indifference to his litany of past missteps and unapologetic mindsets. Some users believe that Bloomberg is not only the best shot to defeat Donald Trump in November, but that he’s the only one who can—full stop. In their minds, he’s the only one with the organization, the resources, and the smarts to take on the incumbent. Evidently, their appraisal of the former mayor is quite high—or their appraisal of the rest of the field is damningly low.
Other Democratic Party supporters, while not altogether a fan of Bloomberg, are committed to voting for the Democrat no matter what, presumably short of him actual murdering someone—and then maybe even so. As is the classic trope, they are prepared to hold their nose, pull the lever, and cast their ballot for the lesser of two evils. Better our authoritarian than theirs. We’ve seen what Trump will do when he’s still in jeopardy of losing a second term. What will happen when he has nothing left to lose? It’s a scary thought.
I realize that votes for president are not made in a vacuum. Voting one’s conscience invites criticism—fair or unfair—of privilege for those who are not members of vulnerable populations under a Trump presidency. For voters in swing states, due consideration must be given to the notion of voting strategically. While we’re speaking in hypotheticals, meanwhile, and before we get to the Democratic National Convention, let’s consider that Mike Bloomberg as the Democratic Party nominee might not be the bastion of electability some conceive of him to be.
First of all, electability is a phenomenon about which many talking heads feel qualified to wax philosophical, but few—if any—can define or fully comprehend. It’s something of which cable news prognosticators claim has predictive validity but of which the proof is borne out solely by the proverbial pudding. This is to say the only way you know how whether someone is electable is to nominate them and see what happens. To say someone is “unelectable” is therefore to fall prey to the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy. And this assumes such analysis, though inaccurate, is made in good faith. For an increasing segment of Americans dissatisfied with the bias of corporate media, there’s plenty of reason to suspect otherwise.
In addition, and to drive the larger point about electability home, those individuals anointed as the one or ones to take on Trump might, months or even weeks later, lose favor to the extent they are effectively ghosted by the likes of CNN and MSNBC. At one time, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren were looking like the duo to beat in the race to the magic number of pledged delegates. Now, anchors and guest commentators are pinning their hopes on Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, or Amy Klobuchar rather than Biden and Warren is lucky if she can get her post-primary speeches aired in their entirety.
Bloomberg, doing well in national polls at this moment, might continue to rise in the polls. Or he might not. Many expected Hillary Clinton to win in 2016. She did not, in part because voter turnout wasn’t good enough to push her over the top. Bloomberg may be even more out of touch and less likable because billionaires aren’t the most popular subset of the electorate right now. With him as the face of the Democratic Party—a party he has only recently switched back to, mind you—there is real risk of turning off progressives, voters of color, women, and every intersection therein. Take him or leave him, huh? How lucky are you feeling exactly?
I get it—many of us on the left side of the political spectrum are desperate to find a nominee, coalesce around him or her, and prepare for the most important election in our lifetime (isn’t it always?). As it must be stressed, though, that’s the function of a primary. Fatiguing though it may be, the system is designed to produce a winner with enough time to prepare for November.
Plus, in contrast to doom-and-gloom sentiments about the confrontational nature of candidate interactions, hard-fought primaries produce stronger candidates, not weaker ones. Besides, if Republicans want to attack the eventual nominee, they don’t need help. Trump already has nicknames for most of the field. Democratic Party leadership should be concerned with choosing the best candidate, not with what names he or she might be called.
Could Mike Bloomberg beat Donald Trump? Sure, a generic Democrat wins most match-ups with #45. Putting pundits’ preferences aside, though, there are better options to be had out of the remaining candidates, ones with much less baggage. Accordingly, don’t let Bloomberg buy the Democratic Party nomination. The implications for this election and those beyond and for democracy as a whole are more than trivial hand-wringing.