New Republic - December 2019
Michael Bloomberg entered the presidential race in November with all the blinkered confidence of a billionaire who has heard time and again of his own business prowess and shrewd political instincts. He did invent his eponymous “terminal,” transforming a portal for financial news into a cash cow that practically prints money. And for many years, the press hailed him as a kind of centrist Minotaur—half a Democrat, half a Republican, put on Earth to heal the divides in American politics. As recently as 2016, Politico’s founder Jim VandeHei was pitching him as the only person who could unite “Establishment America” and “Normal America.”
Now, however, even centrist columnists have deserted him. Bloomberg is too rich, they’ve pointed out, his history too checkered (Gawker once kept a running tally of his chauvinistic statements about women who worked for him), to win over today’s Democratic primary voters.
The only people who believe in Bloomberg, it seems, are his gaggle of well-paid consultants. Their strategy is simple: Bloomberg won’t campaign in Iowa or New Hampshire, nor will he qualify for any of the debates. He will simply buy his way into office. He has done it before. In 2001, he spent $74 million to become mayor of New York City, or $100 a vote. In 2007, he spent even more: $100 million, roughly 10 times what Bill de Blasio spent on his most recent mayoral bid.
A week into his presidential run, Bloomberg had already blanketed the country with inescapable ads: “He could’ve just been the middle-class kid who made good, but Mike Bloomberg became the guy who did good,” the narrator says. “Now, he’s taking on [Trump]—to rebuild the country and restore faith in the dream that defines us, where the wealthy will pay more in taxes, and the middle class get their fair share.” The ads never mention that as mayor, Bloomberg passed regressive taxes on the poor, even as inequality and homelessness in his city skyrocketed. In that sense, he may well be able to find some common ground with Republicans: He is, after all, just another New York billionaire trying to buy his way to the presidency.