Michael Bloomberg is not what Democrats want, but he may be what Democrats need.
None of Bloomberg’s signature traits — 77-years-old, former Republican, billionaire — are on the presidential wish list of most Democrats. What they want is an appealing progressive in her or his 40s or 50s from a swing Midwestern state, an exciting candidate who can beat Donald Trump.
Pete Buttigieg could fill the bill if he were 48 instead of 38, and if he had been governor of Indiana instead of mayor of South Bend. Amy Klobuchar could fit the mold if she had a bigger vision and a stronger organization. Democrats need Bloomberg for four reasons.
First, the former New York mayor has done real things. Building a multibillion-dollar business from scratch and ably managing New York City for 12 years are concrete accomplishments. Making speeches and sitting in committee hearings – the core tasks of being in Congress – are no match for what Bloomberg has done.
Second, Bloomberg is not a left-wing ideologue. The last thing Democrats need is a nominee that President Trump can paint as a socialist snowflake. While Bloomberg is surely liberal on a range of issues – gun control and climate change, for instance – his record is more pragmatic than ideological.
Third, competence. Bloomberg knows how to make things run. The Democratic Party – the party of government – needs a standard-bearer who aims to make government not just bigger, but more competent. Democrats have been missing that puzzle piece for a long time.
Fourth, Bloomberg guarantees a first-class campaign. He can fund the entire general election out of petty cash. Two billion? Three billion? Four billion? The money he puts up for the party – which is virtually unlimited – frees up funds for down-ballot Democrats to use in their campaigns. If you’re running for the House, Senate, governor or the state legislature, that matters.
The muddle that is the Democratic race is helping Bloomberg. Joe Biden had been the default candidate. He was available, acceptable and electable. But Biden’s base is cracking up – a recent Quinnipiac poll shows his once-powerful support among black and moderate Democrats nationally has taken a tumble since Iowa.
For Bloomberg, the dissipation of Biden’s candidacy makes room for him to maneuver, especially among moderates, party bosses and African Americans. Bloomberg’s surprising strength in recent polls among black Democrats give him an edge on Buttigieg and Klobuchar.
On November electability, which was Biden’s calling card, Bloomberg is now doing better than other Democrats. The most recent Quinnipiac poll places Bloomberg ahead of Trump by a sizable nine percentage points. The latest Fox News poll has Bloomberg beating the White House occupant by eight points. Even polls that show narrower Democratic margins place Bloomberg in a relatively strong position for November.
When Bloomberg announced he was skipping the first four states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – pundits called this a risky bet. But the Iowa debacle and Biden’s collapse in New Hampshire have made the bet look brilliant.
The more fractured the field, the better for Bloomberg. That Biden has lost the front-runner’s crown helps him. That there is no clear front-runner to replace Biden helps him. That Sanders is consolidating the progressive left helps him. That Buttigieg and Klobuchar are splitting the new face/moderate vote helps him, too.
Game day for Bloomberg is Super Tuesday, March 3. That’s when 14 states hold presidential primaries for 1,338 delegates. Mega-states California and Texas will vote, as will other delegate-rich states such as Massachusetts (91), North Carolina (110) and Virginia (99).
Ultimately, Bloomberg needs to get votes. All the money in the world means nothing if he can’t win primaries.
As polls shift and the field scrambles, opportunities and risks open for Bloomberg and other aspirants. Interestingly, the nomination arc is bending more toward an open convention.
Democrats will keep shopping for the perfect candidate, but will settle for the best available one. To paraphrase songwriter Stephen Stills, “If you can’t be with the one you love, be with the one you need.”