vision 2020

Michael Bloomberg’s Ego Is an Agent of Socialist Change

Let a thousand centrist candidates bloom(berg). Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

These are anxious days for Democrats who favor gated communities and unfettered trade. Americans who believe in a woman’s right to choose and private equity’s right to loot, now need a Klonopin with their morning news. Elizabeth Warren — the slayer of Summers, stumper of Stumpf, and all around bane of (finance) capital — boasts comfortable leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. In at least one of those states, a Trotskyist fellow traveler is her closest competitor. Now, the betting market’s invisible hand is pointing leftward. And those who fear that blue America is “going red” seem to have no safer bet than a septuagenarian who’s never quite sure what state he’s in (or else, a college-town mayor who may or may not have one black friend).

Which is to say: Davos Democrats’s disaffection with the 2020 field is understandable. The fact that their wing of the party has found itself banking on Joe Biden — a 76-year-old who is rambly beyond his years, and infamous for running memorably awful presidential campaigns in his prime — is surely distasteful for folks accustomed to hiring only the finest of help. But their frustrated entitlement is starting to cloud their judgment.

Although Uncle Joe isn’t an ideal standard-bearer, he’s still a totally viable one. In RealClearPolitics’s national polling average, Biden leads the field by nearly eight points. He’s in striking distance of Warren in New Hampshire, and blowing out his rivals in South Carolina. In hypothetical general-election surveys, he consistently outpolls the other Democrats, which surely bolsters his standing in the eyes of electability-obsessed primary-goers. And his campaign has managed to retain this formidable position while having to make due with much a much leaner budget than Warren’s, Bernie Sanders’s, or even Mayor Pete’s. If blue America’s deep-pocketed political patrons collectively made peace with their predicament, and went all in on Biden, they would have an excellent shot of securing control of the party’s commanding heights.

Alas, collective action doesn’t come naturally to this set. And so, Michael Bloomberg appears hell-bent on redistributing vast sums of his own wealth, so as to (unintentionally) advance the cause of democratic socialism.

As Axios reports:

Mike Bloomberg is jumping into the Democratic presidential race because he believes that Joe Biden is fading, opening the moderate lane next to Elizabeth Warren, sources close to the former New York mayor tell Axios.

Why it matters: “Mike will spend whatever it takes to defeat Donald Trump,” a Bloomberg source said. “The nation is about to see a very different campaign than we’ve ever seen before.”

… Bloomberg had been focused on how he could best influence 2020 from the outside. But he increasingly became concerned that all the leading Democrats have weaknesses Trump could exploit in the general election.

Bloomberg sees himself as an anti-Trump: practical and pragmatic, a self-made business leader, committed to issues such as climate and guns, and someone who recognizes the value of multilateralism and coalitions over isolationism.

Now, Bloomberg still hasn’t quite made his “final decision” about running. And past precedent suggests that the dictates of reason may eventually prevail over the pleas of his ego (and/or money-hungry consultants). But the fact that he is even considering an entrance is a testament to the super-wealthy’s boundless capacity for self-delusion. Bloomberg won mayoral elections in New York City by building a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans, and wildly outspending all of his rivals. In a Democratic primary, Bloomberg’s broad, bipartisan appeal among Hamptons homeowners will be of little use. And in a high-profile presidential race — in which all top candidates have ready access to earned media — the billionaire’s money will be much weaker currency than it was in NYC.

In 2020, no one can win the Democratic nomination without significant support among either white liberals or African-Americans. A Wall Street titan who (erroneously) insisted that only the systematic harassment of young nonwhite men could keep New Yorkers safe — and that “it was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis” — has no appeal with either constituency. He cannot possibly assemble Biden’s current coalition, let alone build on it. To the extent his campaign can have any impact (beyond diverting funds away from actually viable Democratic candidates), it will be to fracture the anti-anti-billionaire vote, thereby shaving precious percentage points off Biden and Buttigieg’s share of delegates. In other words, a Bloomberg candidacy would be an in-kind contribution to the Warren and Sanders campaigns.

Remarkably, the former New York mayor isn’t the only Establishment Democrat mulling an unintentional gift to the party’s progressive wing. Former Attorney General Eric Holder is also considering a late entrance to the 2020 race. And while Holder isn’t as wildly out of sync with the Democratic base as Bloomberg, he also has no obvious advantage over the existing center-left candidates. If Booker and Harris haven’t connected, why would a slapdash Holder campaign hit the mark?

All this said, corporate Democrats can still make “hope and stasis” their party’s 2020 ethos. They just need to put class solidarity above self-striving. Fortunately for the left, “not me, us” plays better streets than it does in the C-suites.

Michael Bloomberg’s Ego Is an Agent of Socialist Change