February 15, 2020

Mike Bloomberg Could Pull It Off

Biden’s collapse created a vacuum in the center, and the former mayor has the money and will to fill it.

You have to start here: We are immersed in a freakish and confounding political era. Anything can happen. Surprise is built in. Guy on a lark takes an escalator ride down to a rally and the system is changed forever. “Expect the unexpected.”

That is the context. Within it, consider this: We are misreading Mike Bloomberg’s race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The headline right now is not “Billionaire Tries to Buy Party,” and not “Former Republican Struggles With Stop-and-Frisk History.” The headline is: “He Could Do This. Uphill, but He Could Win.”

Take Mike Bloomberg seriously.

Bernie Sanders is the front-runner. He’s a real power with a real base. He finished first or second in Iowa and first in New Hampshire, and if his margins were down a win is a win.

But his nomination would split the party. Too many Democrats want a new and deeper liberalism but not socialism. They don’t want a revolution, they want a nicer country. The suburban women everyone is supposedly fighting for? When that affluent liberal mother in Summit, N.J., finds out socialism isn’t just progressive social policy, she’s going to find herself saying a sentence she never thought she’d say: “We worked hard for this, you know.” Bernie Sanders has the power to turn her into Barbara Bush.

Only a fool would say America will never go socialist. America could turn on a dime in a time of widespread want or unease. But it’s unlikely to become socialist in an era of full employment, rising wages and a stock-market boom. Democrats know this.

Joe Biden isn’t the answer. The whole point of his campaign was that he can beat Donald Trump. He can’t beat Pete Buttigieg. He’s never been good at running for president; in three tries he hasn’t won a primary. Under pressure he renounced the lifetime stands that had made him Moderate Joe. And people age at different speeds. Mr. Biden is not a young 77.

It won’t work. At some point he will drop out. An energized Amy Klobuchar and a focused Pete Buttigieg will fight long and hard as they can, but they’re not likely to go the distance.

Which leaves you thinking about Mr. Bloomberg. What’s there? It’s not too soon, three months in, to call his campaign clever and capable. If he got the nomination Democrats would likely suffer a peeling off of the progressive left. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Bernie Bros would walk out. But it wouldn’t break the party, not quite, not yet.

There’s the money, Bloomberg’s solid rocket booster. People say he could spend $1 billion, maybe $2 billion. He’d spend more if he has to. In for a penny, in for a pound. He didn’t enter this to preserve his fortune.

His social media is witty, weird, dryly subversive. That would mean little except for what it implies, that the people hired to do it are allowed to be creative and daring. The campaign is not playing tight but loose, which you do only when you’re confident.

His strengths: resources, relationships and a real biography. For 12 years he was mayor of New York. He governed the ungovernable city that is a microcosm of the world. It is noted that as mayor he was a Republican. No one in New York thought he was a Republican, he was a Democrat who could get only the Republican nomination. After he won he treated Republicans collegially and with respect, which wasn’t hard as a New York Republican is essentially a Democrat with boundaries.

Before that he invented a business product that first seemed useful, then necessary. He created a company that became a huge national brand. He is one of the world’s great philanthropists.

He is what Mr. Trump claimed to be and probably wishes he were. And he isn’t afraid of the president. Whatever he says, Mr. Trump, who respects money more than anything, would be afraid of him.

When Mr. Biden leaves the race, where will his supporters — many of whom feel increasingly outside the party they grew up in — go? Quite possibly Bloomberg.

This week’s Quinnipiac poll suggests that may be right. In past polling, self-described moderate Democrats and Democratic leaners backed Mr. Biden “by a wide margin.” In this poll they still gave Mr. Biden 22%. But Mr. Bloomberg was next, with 21%.

Among all Democrats and leaners, Mr. Biden is in second place and leads the former mayor 17% to 15%. Only two weeks ago Mr. Bloomberg was at 8%. He nearly doubled his support, quietly, while everyone was looking at Iowa and New Hampshire.

After Mr. Biden got drubbed, political experts on TV kept saying black voters, long assumed to be his impermeable base, are in fact “fiercely practical” and “strategic” in their political decisions. To me this sounded like code for “they’re breaking off Biden” and “they’ll shock you by considering Bloomberg.”

This week a 2015 video went viral of Mr. Bloomberg speaking, in blunt terms even for him, of his support of stop and frisk, which he has now disavowed. It was assumed to be deeply damaging with black voters. But denunciation from black leaders was almost uniformly muted. There was talk of reflecting on mistakes, how it’s good to admit them, and those who do deserve forgiveness. You picked up an air of, “I will lambast him in a perfunctory manner but I won’t enjoy it because really, he’s been a friend.”

And he has. The black pastors of New York, who lived through those days with him and a decision they disagreed with, seem to like him a lot. He’s been making friends for a long time. His philanthropies have been generous for a long time. And this is not only local — watch for the Pastor Effect down South, where there will be a big push. This is what they’ll say: Mike has been a friend. He worked well and closely with us. And he stayed close — when he left office six years ago he didn’t turn his back.

Mr. Bloomberg is being endorsed by mayors and members of Congress. Endorsements don’t mean much unless the candidate has muscle behind it, an organization or a machine. Mayors do. A lot of them know him from the yearly national meeting of mayors put on by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

His challenges? Elitist, billionaire, charmless. “He’s not one of us.” “Hide your soda, the nanny is coming.”

He has to perform in debates, where he’ll be the target of the other candidates’ focused and sincere resentment. With the press suddenly noticing him he can’t totally tank on Super Tuesday. (We’ll start writing our “Bloomberg Mirage” stories.)

But he’s got a big army that can grow and advance as opportunity presents. If the race goes a long time he can last a long time.

I have known him more than a decade and consider myself a friend, an admiring one. We’ve sparred a bit on national issues; we don’t share the same stands, or even worldview. But this isn’t written out of affection or regard. It’s what I think I’m seeing.

Take Mr. Bloomberg seriously. Uphill, but he could pull this off.

Republished by permission from peggynoonan.com.

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