international analysis and commentary

Is Bloomberg the benevolent billionaire the Democrats need?

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As the latest to announce his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and the richest candidate, Michael Bloomberg has thwarted the prescribed path and is forging ahead bypassing donations, debates and early primary states.

Like other candidates, this 77-year-old billionaire technocrat’s campaign was spurred by the urgent need to prevent President Donald Trump from spending another four years in the White House. However, Bloomberg’s late-to-the-game presence in this race indicates a perceived weakness in the other candidates’ ability to actually win the 2020 election.

A Republican, turned Independent in 2007, turned Democrat in 2018, bolstered by decades of success both in business and politics, Bloomberg offers a unique cocktail of characteristics that make him an interesting wildcard candidate. Most are hedging that his campaign is doomed to be ultimately irrelevant, but it seems foolish to discount Bloomberg’s unorthodox approach just yet. Lest we forget this brave new world that witnessed an unconventional campaign run by an unlikely billionaire win out over the traditional approach, stupefying much of the world since 2016.

Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump at a golf fund-raiser in 2007

 

While Bloomberg’s centrist approach to government and deep ties to Wall Street might attract disenfranchised Republicans, his lack of Democratic fervor might be the death of his campaign for progressive Democratic voters whom Bloomberg needs to win favor with by March. Therein lies the intrigue of the Bloomberg campaign – perhaps he is a good candidate to defeat Trump, but can the Democrats get behind him?

As a business man, Bloomberg built a $22.5 billion business from the ground up by developing a computerized system that provides market data. His company employs 20,000 people and includes a media arm, Bloomberg News. He has been ranked as the 14th richest man in the world (by comparison Trump is the 259th).

As mayor, Bloomberg ran America’s largest city for three terms leaving a legacy of successful policy in his wake. His administration dramatically increased the number of graduates from public high schools, reduced crime and buffered the city from the economic downturn felt throughout the country in 2008.

Despite his results-driven track record, daunting challenges plague his campaign. Policing tactics implemented with fervor by his administration that targeted minorities for years have been labeled racist. Knowing the importance of the black vote and his lack of support in this demographic, Bloomberg publicly apologized for the policy known as “stop-and-frisk” in a speech just days before announcing his presidential run. But many question how sincere his regret truly is, when he has defended the policy up until just months ago.

Emboldened and enabled by his deep pockets, Bloomberg is self-financing his campaign. Though it is clear Bloomberg does not need donations to run ads and fly around the country, building a donor-base is typically the sign of a healthy foundation of support – $1 donations ultimately turn into votes. Forgoing donations also means Bloomberg will not qualify for the debates. However, some would argue that appearing on the stage ahead of the primaries might not be detrimental, as fewer people are paying attention than you might imagine.

Still, becoming a household name outside of New York City is Bloomberg’s first challenge. Focusing on the Super Tuesday primaries in early March (involving 14 states and the two largest, California and Texas), Bloomberg is casting a wider net than other candidates who have largely focused on the first primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. In the first week of his campaign, Bloomberg outspent all the other candidates in advertisements, articulating that he is the one who can ultimately unite America and defeat Trump, particularly by paying attention to the rest of the United States, not just those with the early primaries.

Michael Bloomberg visiting a soybean farm in Wells, Minnesota, on January 8

 

It is important to note that this tactic, skipping early primaries, has not worked for candidates in past elections. But, because Bloomberg can outspend pretty much anybody in the world, it might work for him. Opposing candidates are bucking up against his approach and accusing Bloomberg of “buying” the election.

While Bloomberg certainly is buying airtime, digital space and perhaps the attention of the electorate, when it comes to votes on Election Day, similar to happiness, it cannot be bought, at least not directly. Until campaign finance reform becomes a reality in the United States, Bloomberg’s heavy-handed approach is perfectly legal, and, if it works, he might just be the benevolent billionaire to turn it all around.