The Democrats have 17 candidates clamoring for their presidential nomination, offering a wide and impressive array of experience and ideas. What makes Michael Bloomberg believe they may need another?
For one thing, he’s not the only person who thinks so.
A problem in having so many choices — too many, really — is that people are slow to settle on one. Meanwhile, Joe Biden, the one whom Donald Trump fears most, is struggling to raise money befitting a front-runner. He’s also losing traction to Elizabeth Warren, whose advocacy of mandatory Medicare for All and a wealth tax worry some who might accept them, but for two more urgent priorities.
Those priorities are defeating Trump and electing a Congress not hostile to moderate and achievable reforms such as Medicare for those who want it.
Should Biden falter in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — the earliest of the caucus and primary states — Bloomberg’s plan would be to make a late but bold grab for Super Tuesday March 3, with its huge haul of Texas, California and 12 other states and territories.
But a late-entry strategy has been tried and failed every time, notably by Rudy Giuliani. Bloomberg would be fairly accused of having skipped places he couldn’t win.
November 2020 will be a close election, no matter what some polls show. There will be no votes that the Democrats can afford to waste. The advantages of nominating a centrist would be significant.
Bloomberg is certainly a centrist. He has broad potential appeal to Democrats passionate about gun control and saving the climate, both of which he has supported with enthusiasm and money.
There’s no doubt that Bloomberg despises Trump and what he has done to and with the presidency.
“I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one,” the former mayor told the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
The contrasts between the two billionaires, assuming that Trump actually is one, couldn’t be more pronounced. Bloomberg built a hugely successful business without help from a deep-pockets father. American courthouses aren’t littered with litigation over a chronic refusal to pay tradespeople what they are owed. He has never resorted to bankruptcy. He is intelligent, educated and well-mannered. He was never fined for looting a charity. And he proved himself in office before seeking the highest office of all, serving three competent terms as the mayor of a city more populous than 38 states.
But to overcome the other accomplished Democratic candidates, there are several large issues he will have to manage.
• His wealth. Democrats don’t mind nominating rich people for the presidency, people like Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and John Kerry, for example But Bloomberg, whose fortune has been estimated at $52 billion, would be by far the wealthiest. Voters would and should demand that he release his income tax forms. As mayor, he insisted they would tell competitors too much about his private business.
He also would need to persuade voters that his opposition to Warren is more about electability than about his long-standing ambition to be president or about her proposed wealth tax, which he opposes.
• His campaign strategy. Clearly, he could afford to spend a billion dollars on Super Tuesday and not miss the money. But he shouldn’t entirely self-finance his campaign. Democrats won’t like that. He should appeal for small contributions, like Sanders did so successfully — not for needing the money, but for offering voters some ownership in his campaign. The risk is that it could embarrass him with a low yield. In that event, it would tell him something.
• His liabilities with blacks and Hispanics. They were the people most often stopped and frisked without cause in a police department practice he still defends. At its peak in 2011, nearly 700,000 people were searched. Only 10% were white, according to New York Times columnist Charles Blow, and nearly 90% were innocent.
Bloomberg deserves credit for deciding early not to run as an independent, which he realized would likely result in splitting the anti-Trump vote and re-electing the president. Before committing to running as a Democrat, however, he should satisfy himself that his candidacy would not have the same tragic outcome.