Michael Bloomberg did not spend the last several years preparing to run for president. Several facts make that clear. There was his very public declaration, in March of 2019, that he would not seek the Democratic nomination. There was reporting that said he would only run if Joe Biden didn’t. And there was his decision, at the eleventh hour, to enter the race anyway.
But the clearest sign of this is the many things he’s said over the past few years that are decidedly unhelpful for this new phase of political career. These quotes, delivered in private and public and as recently as last year, have caused headache after headache for his campaign. They’ve offended — either for the first time or again — large groups of voters, reaffirmed the opinions of those who already have it out for Bloomberg, and colored the news coverage of the billionaire as he undergoes a rapid vetting.
Here’s what he’s said that’s gotten him in trouble, so far:
On stop and frisk
As mayor of New York City, Bloomberg was a champion of the controversial stop and frisk policy, which resulted in millions of largely nonwhite men being searched for weapons on the city’s streets. In 2015, two years out of office, he described the policy at the Aspen Institute in stark terms.
“Ninety-five percent of murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O.,” he can be heard saying in the audio. “You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16–25. That’s true in New York. That’s true in virtually every city.”
Days after Donald Trump’s election, Bloomberg spoke to a group of business-school students in England and was asked about income inequality. In his answer, he made two remarks that his opponents on both the left and right have a problem with.
First, while describing the preindustrial agrarian economy, he said he could “teach anybody” to farm. “It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, you add water, up comes corn. You can learn that,” he said. Then he said working in the modern information economy requires “a lot more gray matter.”
While the Bloomberg campaign has argued that the comments were taken out of context, it seems a safe bet that he’d take a mulligan on this one if he could.
On defending banks and Barack Obama
In the summer of 2016, Bloomberg was treating the idea of running for president as a joke. In audio from June of that year, reported by CNN this week, Bloomberg is asked why he didn’t run for president. “Well, to start, my first campaign platform would be to defend the banks, and you know how well that’s gonna sell in this country,” he said in what his present-day campaign calls a joke.
He went on to say that his 2012 endorsement of Barack Obama was “backhanded.” In a year in which he’s being accused of misleading voters about Obama endorsing him, that’s an inadvisable way to describe support for the last Democratic president.
On Xi Jinping
In an interview with PBS last September, Bloomberg came to the defense of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, denying that the general secretary of the Communist Party of China is a dictator.
“Xi Jinping is not a dictator; he has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive,” Bloomberg said. The remark has been resurfaced again this week as Bloomberg criticizes Bernie Sanders for praising Fidel Castro’s literacy program.
On transgender people
In March of last year, the same month Bloomberg wrote an op-ed for his own news service saying he wouldn’t run for president, he referred to transgender people as “he, she, or it” and “some guy in a dress” during a talk in Manhattan. The remarks were published by BuzzFeed News, which notes that it’s not the first time he has used the construction. In response, the Bloomberg campaign did not address the comments, but said the candidate “understands that the transgender community has been under attack for decades and the advance of rights has not been equal.”