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Billionaire Entryism: Prospects and Problems for Mayor “Mike” Bloomberg’s Presidential Run

Summary:
By Lambert Strether of Corrente There certainly are rather a lot of political engaged Democrat billionaire wannabe Presidents: Starbucks’ Howard Schultz (memorably, a “person of means“) who flirted with running, Tom Steyer (of the oddly poor personnel choices), who actually is, and now Mike “Mayor for Life” Bloomberg. From Town and Country: Back in March of this year, billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he did not plan to run for president in 2020…. “I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field.” He appears to be having second thoughts about that last statement. Friday afternoon, Bloomberg submitted paperwork and qualified for the Alabama Democratic primary, which has an early filing deadline. So,

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente

There certainly are rather a lot of political engaged Democrat billionaire wannabe Presidents: Starbucks’ Howard Schultz (memorably, a “person of means“) who flirted with running, Tom Steyer (of the oddly poor personnel choices), who actually is, and now Mike “Mayor for Life” Bloomberg. From Town and Country:

Back in March of this year, billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he did not plan to run for president in 2020…. “I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field.” He appears to be having second thoughts about that last statement. Friday afternoon, Bloomberg submitted paperwork and qualified for the Alabama Democratic primary, which has an early filing deadline.

So, at least Mike — I’m gonna call Michael Bloomberg “Mike,” because I think he likes to be thought of as one of the common people — is keeping his options open, because he’s “all but officially announced,” as WaPo puts it, where “all but” is doing a lot of work. (The announcement could come “as early as” next week.) There is also no Bloomberg campaign site. (Hilariously, immediately after his announcement last Thursday, Bloomberg was dinged by a parody website — still up — featuring the world’s ugliest logo. And how come nobody in Mike’s brains trust thought to buy up bloomberg2020.org? Howard?) In fact, Axios says Bloomberg might not actually run:

Sources close to Mike Bloomberg tell Axios that last week’s announcement was partly a trial balloon to gauge interest and preserve the former mayor’s options — but his own very extensive polling remains far from convincing. Polling being studied by Bloomberg shows big, perhaps insurmountable hurdles, particularly if Joe Biden stays in.

All this excitement because Mike decided to coyly show his ankle! (Presumably those polls include better data than public Morning Consult data, and aren’t driven by what Nate Silver thinks; those are the polling sources cited by Axios.)

Nevertheless, for the sake at least of amusement, let’s assume that Mike succumbs, as so many bosses do, to the idea that he can do the job better than the help, and that he does run.

We should understand that Mike is not all that bad a person, for a billionaire, and not all that bad a mayor. Let me quote this classic “I’m totally not saying this just because I was on the payroll” encomium from Jonathan Capehart at WaPo:

[Mike] would make an excellent president of the United States. I’m not just saying that because I was a policy adviser on his first of three successful campaigns for mayor of New York. He started his 12-year tenure as mayor by pulling the city from the brink of economic oblivion after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and then presiding over a resurgent Big Apple in the years that followed.

What’s more, [Mike], a true philanthropist who bankrolls efforts to stop gun violence and combat climate change, has all the qualities that President Trump lacks: a moral core, deeply held convictions, a belief in the power of government to address if not fix problems, respect for the rule of law and reverence for our democratic institutions and the Constitution.

Which, if you can manage to remove the egg from Capehart’s pudding, does boil down to “not all that bad.” Jonathan Greenberg, who also worked for Mike, wrote in 2012, when Bloomberg’s final term as May was over:

Under [Mike], “who you know” was replaced by what you proposed — and its benefits to the city and working (though not poor) citizens needing affordable housing.

In a similar vein, creating the 311 information network was a huge public service benefit to New Yorkers who had become accustomed to city offices not answering their phone calls. Then there was the mayor’s audacious indoor smoking ban. [Mike] was widely vilified for pushing it. Critics swore that many restaurants, bars and nightclubs would be bankrupted. The opposite happened. People like me, allergic to tobacco smoke and wary of second-hand smoke for my infant children, could suddenly go out again.

By all accounts the 311 network is really, really good, and it’s a pleasure to see a public official in action who has made government work better (and who didn’t make the 311 network a public-private partnership, or targeted, or means-tested, or a vehicle for some hare-brained scheme involving mobile phones and apps. All of which are pretty plausible scenarios, when you think of it. Also, $8 billion to charity is impressive, especially since much of it is anonymous. Even though it must open a lot of doors.

With all these caveats, let’s look at three topics: First, Bloomberg’s prospects. How well will he do against the Democrat field? Next, Bloomberg’s problems. This is the fun part: Oppo! Finally, we’ll ask if Bloomberg can buy the votes he needs.

Bloomberg’s Prospects

Morning Consult started polling almost immediately. Here are the results in chart form:

Speculating freely and toying with the arithmetic on the chart:

My first thought was that Mike could just eat up all the small fry to his right on the chart: his own 4 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 9 = 20, putting him in the top tier. Mayor Mike could then beat Mayor Pete around the head and ears about being a real Mayor as opposed to an action-figure one using South Bend as the latest stepping stone, picking up another few points, and vault right into the top tier. Then again, every one of those third-tier candidates has their own die-in-the-last-ditch supporters, amazing as it may seem; Beto’s supporters actually wept when he dropped out. So assume they’re all hard core and nothing will persuade them. That’s why there are so few of them!

The alternative would be to attack to his left on the chart, slugging Harris because he’s a better cop, Mayor Pete as before, then… Picking up Warren supporters? Depends on how many Warren supporters are all “I want to see a woman in the White House before I die,” I suppose. And on issues with oppo, below. Picking up Sanders supporters? Fuggedaboutit. That leaves Biden, who inexplicably, and very Trump-in-2016-ishly, is still in first, though nobody knows quite why and assumes it will stop. Depends on how many Biden voters are all “I’ve got Obama’s portrait on the wall, lit up, next to Grandma, and I think we should go back to 2008, when everything was fine.” So, being totally optimistic that anybody will take Mike seriously besides the press and desperate Centrists, give Mike his own 4 + 1 (one-sixth of Harris, he’s a white male) + 3 (a third of Buttigieg, ditto) + 6 (a third of Warren, he’s a technocrat with “plans”, too!) + 0 (Sanders) + 8 (one-fourth of Biden). That would be Bloomberg 4 + 1 + 3 + 6 + 0 + 8 = 22, then Sanders 20 – 0 = 20, Warren 18 – 6 = 12, Harris 6 – 1 = 5, Buttigieg 8 – 3 = 5 and the third tier where it is. Sanders vaults into second! No wonder Sanders laughed when he heard Mike was going to run. (Polling also found Mike more disliked than other candidates, which will surely make it harder for him to move voters from one column to another.)

So, that was fun. You can play with the numbers yourself, of course, because I’m totally spitballing, but if you make the basic assumption that Mike picks up some fraction from each other candidates, and Sanders has a rock solid base, I think you will find it turns into a two-man race with Sanders and Bloomberg at the top tier. Invent your own scenarios!

Bloomberg’s Problems

Mike basically has two problems: One is his late entry; the other is that his late entry allows others to define him before he hits the trail. The New York Times describes Mike’s late entry in “Bloomberg Takes Steps Into 2020 Race, Signaling Unconventional Campaign Strategy“:

But [Mike’s] early moves also signaled he would be approaching the campaign in an unconventional manner: In a dramatic acknowledgment of his own late start in the race, [Mike] and his advisers have decided that he would pursue a risky strategy of skipping all four traditional early-state contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, and focus instead on big states that hold primaries soon afterward.

On Friday, [Mike’s] camp began to lay out in public a theory of how he might win the nomination: Advisers said he intended to stake his candidacy on big, delegate-rich primary states like California and Texas, where [Mike’s] immense personal fortune could be put to extensive use.

We’ll get to the question of whether Mike can buy the votes he needs below. The Iowa Caucus is February 3, 2020. Super Tuesday is Tuesday, 3 March. That’s 29 days. Either Mike unleashes the most brutal air war the political world has even seen in California and Texas, or he starts the air war now without campaigning in IA, NH, NV, and SC, in which case it’s hard to see those voters saying anything but “Screw you too, Jack,” leaving Mike with zero votes in the first four states. Big Mo!

Meanwhile, before the ground starts shaking on Super Tuesday, Mike’s opponents will be making every effort, including their own air war, to define him to voters before he can define himself (“Meet the man who wants to buy your vote” springs to mind). Here’s a taste of the oppo that a cursory search of the Internet brings up.

CAVEAT: Do remember I’m talking about oppo, here. I’m not expressing a view on the merits of these public policies or decisions; I’m imagining what could be done with them if James Carville or Karl Rove went to work on them. To the oppo:

Problems with women (meaning that Warren and Harris supporters will be hard to move). From Reuters, “More women charge Bloomberg LP with discrimination,” 2008:

Financial news and data firm Bloomberg LP, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is facing a lawsuit involving 58 women who say they had their pay cut, were demoted or denied opportunities because they had become pregnant.

58 women is a lot of video clips. Or from the Daily Mail, “EXCLUSIVE: Billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg told ‘raunchy’ jokes about women, ogled their ‘a**es,’ mocked the British royals and paid off an employee who said he told her ‘kill it’ when she revealed her pregnancy.” As usua with the Mail, the whole story is in the headilne, so I don’t need to quote further.

Problems with cops (meaning that the left, many blacks, and many liberals will be hard to move). From USA Today, Mike on his “stop and frisk” policies, in 2013:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday that police “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little” as compared to murder suspects’ descriptions, sparking criticism from activists and some politicians in a city that has been immersed in a debate about law enforcement and discrimination.

Speaking on his weekly WOR-AM radio appearance, Bloomberg echoed an argument he has made before: that the stops’ demographics should be assessed against suspect descriptions, not the population as a whole. But coming a day after city lawmakers voted to create a police inspector general and new legal avenues for racial profiling claims, the mayor’s remarks drew immediate pushback.

It’s hard to see how this sort of thing would play well among the #BlackLivesMatter contingent, or even the “Listen to Black Women” contingent. And of course stop-and-frisk is controversial in and of itself, as Charles Blow urges here.

Problems with weird ideas about potable liquids (unpredictable, but I would bet the more creative shops would have fun). There are two. The first is banning Big Gulp soda. From Wikipedia, on the “Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule”:

Under the plan, all New York City regulated restaurants, fast-food establishments, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and food carts would be barred from selling sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces (0.5 liters). The regulation would not apply to drinks sold in grocery stores including 7-Eleven, which are regulated by the state. In addition, the regulation would exclude: drinks that were more than 70 percent fruit juice, diet sodas, drinks with at least 50% milk or milk substitute, and alcoholic beverages.

Besides just being funny — who doesn’t love them their Big Gulps? This is America! — regulating soda size bespeaks a tendency to micromanage that some might not think Presidential. And then there’s the mother’s milk thing. From My Brown Baby, 2012:

Bloomberg’s taking it too damn far: he’s requiring hospitals to hide their baby formula behind locked doors so more new mothers will breastfeed.

Beginning September 3, New York City will implement the most restrictive pro-breastmilk program in the nation—keeping and tracking bottles of formula in out-of-the-way secure storerooms or locked boxes, to be taken out only after a mother requests it. Under the program, dubbed “Latch On NYC,” mothers who receive formula will get lectured on the health benefits of breast milk and told why it’s best to offer the breast to her baby instead of the artificial milk.

That’s great news—for sure. As a breastfeeding advocate and a mom who breastfed both her babies for a year, despite extremely limited resources and support, I’m always happy when more moms choose to breastfeed their babies… But really, I won’t ever be down with programs that insist on basically shoving a mother’s titties in her baby’s mouth and then acting like she’s evil and pushing drugs on her baby if she removes her ninny and puts a bottle full of formula in it.

The key word here is choice. No mother, in the middle of all the confusion and emotions and elation and crazy of bringing a new life into the world, needs nurses standing over her, treating her like she has no choice in the matter when it comes to feeding her own child. And she especially doesn’t need anyone passing judgment on her for choosing to formula feed, no matter what her reasoning is.

Problems with housing policy (I’m not sure this would play well in California at all). New York Magazine, “Mayor Bloomberg Sees Lack of Affordable Housing As a ‘Good Sign‘”, 2013:

Mayor Bloomberg has never been known for his tact, but he’s really letting his out-of-touch rich guy flag fly now that his twelve-year reign is almost at its end. Back in September, he repeatedly expressed his desire to “get every billionaire around the world to move” to New York, which he believes would be “a godsend” for the city. Yesterday, on his weekly radio show, Bloomberg addressed the topic of affordable housing for New Yorkers of more modest means. “Somebody said that there’s not enough housing. That’s a good sign,” he explained. “As fast as we build, more people want to live here. Doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. But there are no vacancies. And that will bring in investment for people to build at all income levels different kinds of housing.”

Well, it turns out that a Manhattan full of vacant pied-a-terres owned by foreign money wasn’t all that great an idea, if you go by the vacant windows on every block and the infestation of chains driving out local businesses.

Problems with Occupy (meaning Sanders voters will be even harder to move) From New York Magazine, “Bloomberg’s One Percent Solution,” 2011:

[C]laiming that the [Zucottti Park] encampment had become a menace to public health and safety, Bloomberg sent in the troops. It was a tactical triumph, and a vast improvement on the recent violence in Oakland and Seattle—not to mention on Tompkins Square Park in 1874, when police on horseback bludgeoned protesters. But launching a sneak attack, and keeping it out of sight of reporters to “protect” them, forfeited the high road Bloomberg had tried to walk and stoked the battles between cops and OWS that erupted two days later.

(We might remember that Winifred Wong, one of the group that stoked the 2016 insurgency by first asking Warren, then Sanders, to run, came out of Occupy.)

Can Bloomberg Buy the Votes He Needs?

Finally, can Bloomberg buy the votes he needs? He certainly did when running for his final term as Mayor in 2009:

The advertising was relentless, as was Bloomberg’s spending in that contest (at $102 million of his personal fortune, it translated to $183 a vote – keeping in line with the $74 million Bloomberg spent in 2001 and $85 million in 2005).

The point is: after weeks of no escape from the ad onslaught, I was primed to fly to Gotham and vote for Bloomberg if it meant getting him off the air and letting me listen to baseball as it’s meant – an escape from politics. New Yorkers maybe felt similarly beaten into submission, with that media war of attrition giving the mayor an unimpressive five-point win, far less than what polls had predicted.

So money ball worked for Bloomberg in 2009, but not as well as he’d hoped. Will it work in 2019? Perhaps not. Money ball didn’t work for billionaire Bezos in Seattle. From Reuters, “Amazon’s $1.5 million political gambit backfires in Seattle City Council election“:

Seattle voters, in a rebuke to heavy corporate campaign spending by Amazon.com, have kept progressives firmly in control of their city council, reviving chances for a tax on big businesses that the tech giant helped fend off last year…. Corporate reaction to the election outcome was muted.

Of course, maybe Bezos should have spend $15 million, which would be easy for him to do. My guess is that vote-buying is going to play very, very badly indeed. Bloomberg should read the room, although he’s probably prevented from doing so by sycophants.

Conclusion

So is Mike gonna spend a squillion dollars on fancy consultants and lose? Could be. I can’t even figure out why he’s running now, when he had already decided in March that was a bad idea. I mean, a billion dollar air war that would be seen to work in November would also be seen to work in March, right? And so what if Warren’s elected and starts yammering about taxes? Can’t he buy a few Senators? The only explanation I can think of is that some of his billionaire buddies called him up and asked him to take one for the team (or, as Sanders and AOC put it, “class solidarity”). An alternative would be a “plan B” to fund campaign operations, but would Mike really back out after putting himself on the ballot in Alabama? Just drop it? Does Mike really want to be remembered as the guy who got all of 42 or whatever votes in Alabama, and zero in every other state? I don’t think so. And I don’t think his buddies would be happy if he did that. So I think Mike is in. One thing is certain: A lot of Democratic strategists are gonna be able to send their kids to very good schools.

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