The Former Mayor of NYC Takes a Different Strategy – and It Might Work
Like all candidates, Mike Bloomberg is a complicated fellow. There is much to like, much to be nervous about.
Adding Up Pros and Cons
Some factors look familiar. Do we need another white guy candidate? Do we need another almost octogenarian? Is there any advantage or disadvantage in being the second Jewish candidate? How many billionaires do we want as candidates this time around? Can the father of Stop and Frisk, only now apologized for (and rather weakly at that) rally minority and liberal base voters?
All reasonable and expected questions to ask. But there is also a record that merits recognition, one that has value. His tenure as mayor of one of the world’s largest and most complex cities is pretty solid. He certainly can connect with a wide range of voters; the man has been a Democrat, a Republican, and an Independent. I joke that he has always been and always will be a “Bloombergian.” He has been a solid proponent for many years of important Democratic causes. He has put substantial sums of money, effort, and smart organization behind causes and candidates with good results nationwide. Bloomberg was no small factor in the Blue Wave of 2018. He has demonstrated a willingness to take on tough fights with powerful opponents, with winning results.
Timing is Everything
Bloomberg probably would have done better as a candidate years earlier. He clearly has been considering a run for some time. I expect he regrets not running against Trump the first time, even though it would have meant challenging Hillary Clinton for the nomination. This time around, he came in late, with an unusual strategy that takes into account a crowded field and wields a commitment to use almost unlimited resources.
Put simply, Bloomberg is betting that he can position himself as a top tier candidate through superior organization and massive spending. Toward that end, he has done some interesting things. He has hired over 1,000 campaign workers. They are paid top dollar, attracting some real talent. He has told them they have a guaranteed job until November; if he drops out, the personnel and resources will continue to work to support the party and the eventual nominee.
Bloomberg seems to be positioning himself as the solution for two scenarios. In one, we come out of Super Tuesday with a 2, 3, or 4-way virtual tie. He offers himself as the moderate slightly left of center alternative to stalemate. In the other, the party seems likely to nominate Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. He makes the case that either will scare off independent and centrist voters. He is the alternative that will bring progressive values without the baggage. Either scenario could happen. Bloomberg is now cracking the 10% level in national polls; his positioning is looking ever stronger.
Bloomberg has already spent over $245 million dollars, more than everyone else combined. He has very effective TV ads and other items of outreach, especially in the Super Tuesday states. Bloomberg (and Trump) bought Super Bowl ads. He has said he is prepared to spend $1 Billion on the nomination, more if needed. At least that much is promised for the general election if he is the nominee. What sort of reach does that yield? One estimate is that if the party nominates someone else, Trump may outspend them at a ratio of about 2 to 1. If Bloomberg wins, he will likely outspend Trump 5 to 1. Let that sink in for a moment.
In some ways, Bloomberg seems to make Trump the most nervous. He arguably is everything Trump wanted to be. He is a genuine billionaire; his fortune is self-made and still growing. He is admired by many as a leader and a manager. Bloomberg is widely recognized and regularly feted in New York society. He has controversies, but no scandals.
Bloomberg presents some problems. His chosen path means he makes none of the debates and that he does very little of the kind of retail politicking we like. He has not been tested, and may well never be tested, in small group settings around the country. Such campaigning can tell us a lot about a candidate’s character and ability to connect with voters. He also declined to have a sit-down session with the NY Times editorial board, saying that he had not yet developed positions on a lot of issues. That is worrisome. Does it indicate an unwillingness to face tough questions from a knowledgeable group?
In a way that does count, Bloomberg is not paying his dues on the campaign trail. He reportedly has told Bloomberg News they may not investigate anything in his campaign. In a Donald Trump like manner, he is using nondisclosure agreements to keep former employees talking about him. Ouch on both of these last two concerns.
The Stop and Frisk history is still with us and will cost him support. In my view, ensuring Israel’s security is important, but Bloomberg seems to carry this over into something of a blank check for Netanyahu and his supporters. That kind of politics in Israel puts that country’s future at real risk of endless conflict and isolation. Some have also noted that Bloomberg also can be something of a Nanny State sort of guy. Remember the fight over big sodas and nutritional labeling in NYC? The Republicans had a field day with that one. Still, one should note that Bloomberg prevailed in those contests. The results have actually paid off in health statistics.
In the end, Bloomberg may be a far more viable candidate than I expected when he entered. He has a shot.
As with other candidates, there is a lot to dislike, enough to like. He at least has a credible resume, does not lead a cult of personality, and brings impressive skills to the job of candidate and president. He is in the right place on a host of issues and has shown willingness to help build the party by supporting key issues and new candidates. I imagine he would do well against Trump in debates, although their difference in physical stature is not good. Such small things count. His baggage is substantial, he is not the warmest and most personable candidate in the field, and there is a bit of arrogance that is worrisome.
Still, we could do worse, as we say. This one will be fascinating to watch in the coming weeks. Watch closely as we move through the early states sweepstakes and into Super Tuesday
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