Bloomberg: Not a Vanity Campaign, But Vanity-Plus

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Michael Bloomberg at a campaign event in Compton, Calif., February 3, 2020. (Andrew Cullen/Reuters)

Tom Scocca writes in Slate:

The morning after President’s Day, a new poll found that Michael Bloomberg had captured enough public support to claim a place onstage in the next Democratic presidential debate. On Wednesday night, the business-information tycoon and former Republican mayor of New York City will appear alongside candidates who have spent months or years trying to win over Democratic voters — shaping their policy proposals, cultivating armies of donors and volunteers, gathering support door-to-door — having himself spent only money, a tsunami of it: more than $400 million of his own fortune on campaign expenses, including saturation ads across TV and online media.

It may look as if Bloomberg is simply joining the presidential race a little later than the others. But what he’s really there to do is shut down the presidential race entirely. Yes, everyone running wants to win. But the other people in the race are asking voters to choose them. Bloomberg is asking — or telling — the public to give up on the idea that anyone really has a choice . . . Bloomberg’s message is that it’s too late for any of that. Michael Bloomberg is the only person who can beat Donald Trump, because he has the power to beat Donald Trump, because he has the money. The voters’ preferences don’t matter.

If that were Bloomberg’s appeal, it would be a false one: There are all sorts of reasons Senator Bernie Sanders might lose to President Trump, but an inability to raise enough money for his campaign is probably not going to be one of them, even though the president is far ahead right now. Sanders’s less-than-$20-a-pop method of mass-fundraising may involve a little more labor than Bloomberg’s rummaging around in his sueded baby-seal-skin couch cushions for a billion bucks or so, but he can raise the money. And, if Bloomberg is to be believed, the Democratic nominee will have the benefit of Bloomberg’s resources irrespective of who ends up carrying the asinine banner of Team Jackass in the general.

But I don’t think the Scrooge McDuck thing is really what Bloomberg is offering. There are a lot of lefty billionaires out there who might like to be president. What Bloomberg offers Democrats is the fact that he has real executive experience that produced pretty good results in New York City, and the fact that he is not a socialist kook or a lightly qualified neophyte. Bloomberg has been in politics for a while now — he isn’t Howard Schultz, or Mark Cuban, or some other billionaire tyro with too much ego in his pants and too much time on his hands.

Scocca contrasts Bloomberg’s spending with other Democrats’ efforts aimed at “shaping their policy proposals, cultivating armies of donors and volunteers, gathering support door-to-door,” etc., but, of course, that’s exactly what Bloomberg has been doing, on his own dime, for years, from his batty and fruitless gun-control campaigns to his substantial financial support for Democratic campaigns and progressives causes. That’s not my personal cup of English breakfast, but for the Democrats who live in Cleveland and Philadelphia rather than on Twitter, that might be of some interest. And though I find it impossible to get inside the mind of a Democratic partisan, I can’t help thinking that if I were a degraded specimen of that sort, then I might welcome the prospect of my party’s out-Trumping Trump with a vicious billionaire megalomaniac of its own.

The Democrats — and Republicans, if it comes to that — who want to beat Bloomberg would do themselves a favor to genuinely appreciate that his is not an out-of-nowhere campaign with nothing behind it except $64 billion — it is a natural outgrowth of Bloomberg’s political and philanthropic interests and his vanity and his neuroses…with $64 billion behind it.

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