Every four years, Michael Bloomberg hears something virtually no other American hears: a groundswell of support for a Bloomberg presidential candidacy. Now, as the 2020 Democratic primaries rapidly approach, he’s hearing it again.
Bloomberg, a fairly successful mayor of New York City and a fabulously successful businessman, has an estimated net worth of $52 billion. Without that fortune, nobody would be talking about a Bloomberg candidacy at this late date. But with his money, Bloomberg could self-finance a run from start to finish without ever having to ask a single donor for a penny. That gives him freedom to float a would-be candidacy long after the field has been set.
This time, Bloomberg, who in his political life has been a Democrat, a Republican, an independent, and now a Democrat again, is setting a personal record by flirting twice in a single cycle.
Last spring, there was a ripple of speculation about a 2020 Bloomberg candidacy. On March 5, Bloomberg put an end to it when he announced flatly, “I’m not running for president.” Instead, he said, he would pour his energy and resources into a new climate change project called Beyond Carbon.
Now, however, he has apparently moved beyond Beyond Carbon. Last week, The New York Times reported that Bloomberg is “actively preparing to enter the Democratic presidential primary.”
“Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to (defeat President Trump),” Bloomberg adviser Howard Wolfson told the paper. “If Mike runs he would offer a new choice to Democrats built on a unique record running America’s biggest city, building a business from scratch and taking on some of America’s toughest challenges as a high-impact philanthropist.”
Bloomberg is said to be concerned — and it is a legitimate concern — that the current Democratic field has moved too far left, embracing policies such as “Medicare for All,” virtually open borders, free college and wealth taxes. That’s what Wolfson meant when he said the field is “not well positioned” to beat Trump.
But there is no indication that voters believe Bloomberg is the solution to the problem. This latest tease is too recent for any reliable polling, although one survey found Bloomberg with the highest negatives in the field, but in the past, he has never been a voter favorite outside the confines of New York City.
Bloomberg is being pressed into action by states with early primary filing deadlines. He already has placed his name on the ballot for the Alabama primary, and a short time later flew to Arkansas to file there.
Alabama and Arkansas are fine, but what about Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, the first states to cast votes and award delegates? Bloomberg has apparently decided to blow them off.
“In a dramatic acknowledgment of his own late start in the race,” the Times reported, “Mr. Bloomberg and his advisers have decided that he would pursue a risky strategy of skipping all four traditional early state contests ... and focus instead on big states that hold primaries soon afterward.”
Instead of “risky strategy,” one might substitute “crazy strategy.” Candidates in the past have sometimes tried to skip an early primary or caucus, but skipping all four at the beginning is a sure way to lose. Bloomberg predecessor Rudy Giuliani essentially tried it in the Republican contest in 2008, and by the time the first four primaries were over, voters barely remembered Giuliani was in the race.
The same likely will happen to Bloomberg, if he goes through with it. Recall the excitement and 24/7 media attention that precedes the Iowa caucuses, and then the shift to New Hampshire, and so on. Bloomberg won’t be a part of that. He can buy all the ads he wants telling people to just wait until he gets in, but there will be Democratic winners chosen by the voters of the first four state contests who cannot be ignored.
If Bloomberg jumps in, voters will eventually recognize that he, like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, is too old to be president. Bloomberg will be nearly 79 on Inauguration Day 2021. Like Biden, who will be 78, and Sanders, who will be 79, Bloomberg will have to convince voters that a president in his 80s, never before seen in U.S. history, is nothing to worry about.
Bloomberg’s move is a symptom of Democratic anxiety. We’ve seen it before, in both parties. At the beginning of a primary season, with a big field of candidates starting the race, the party faithful say, “Isn’t this great? We have so many good candidates — almost an embarrassment of riches!” Then, after several months of campaigning, they say, “Can’t somebody enter this race and save us?”
The answer is no. The Democratic field is what it is. One of the candidates in the race right now will win the nomination, go on to face Trump, and have a chance to become the next president. There’s no savior waiting to rescue Democrats, and that includes Michael Bloomberg.