by Bob Barr
Using traditional criteria to measure a candidate’s likelihood of success, it would be easy to dismiss former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s presidential candidacy. Doing so, however, would not be a smart decision by either Democrats or Republicans.
Sure, Bloomberg’s was a late entry into the already crowded field of Democratic presidential wannabes. And yes, his polling places him in single digits among Democratic voters; behind Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. However, unlike the other billionaire still in the Democratic field, Tom Steyer, Bloomberg is a well-known figure to voters across the country.
Bloomberg’s enviable name id is due primarily to his having served for a dozen years as mayor of the Big Apple. He also, of course, is well-known (and widely reviled) thanks to his long-standing and very public attacks against the National Rifle Association and his support of virtually every gun control measure on the Democratic Party’s agenda. It would, however, be a mistake to view him as a single-issue candidate.
Bloomberg earned his position as one of the 10 richest people in the world based on demonstrable financial and technological acumen. Unlike many others on Forbes’ list of billionaires, Bloomberg’s wealth is “self-made.” Attacks by Sanders and Warren against Bloomberg for being a “billionaire” may resonate with some voters; but there are many more who either openly or quietly admire someone like him who earned his wealth by hard work and intelligence.
Like Donald Trump, Bloomberg is a creature of the city he led for three terms. But here again, pigeon-holing and criticizing him for being a “New Yorker” will fall flat, just as it did in 2016 when Trump faced similar attacks on his geographic heritage. Trump was criticized during the Republican primaries as unfit to carry his Party’s banner into the general election because he was from New York rather than the country’s heartland. He successfully defended against such attacks by clearly — sometimes with unusual bluntness — giving voice to issues close to the hearts of millions of middle-class voters.
To put it mildly, Bloomberg is a far different orator than Trump. While not entirely humorless in his public persona, Bloomberg presents as a more restrained and measured public speaker. The worst tactic Bloomberg could attempt would be to “out-Trump Trump.” It’s an impossibility for anyone who might attempt it. Also, the audience with which Bloomberg must connect between now and “Super Tuesday” on March 3, is not Trump’s base. Bloomberg’s audience will be millions of Democratic voters (and a not insignificant pool of independents) who pine for someone — anyone — who can convince them he or she can simply beat Trump.
Importantly, Bloomberg’s credibility in the financial arena along with positioning himself as a centrist on foreign policy matters, solidifies his appeal to more moderate and Establishment voters leery of the extreme left-wing policies espoused by Sanders, Warren and, lately, even Biden.
Bloomberg’s fabulous wealth — estimated by Forbes at $58.4 — and his already demonstrated willingness to spend it in support of his campaign (some $200 million already spent on advertising and field organization), by itself makes him a force to be reckoned with. But a winning primary campaign will take more than money and staff; and it is here that Bloomberg’s persistent gun-control strategy will help — at least in the primaries.
His long-running campaign against gun violence — and in many respects gun ownership — has been backed with generous grants to other mayors and to grass roots organizations across the country. These are IOUs that can be called in now.
Bloomberg has shown himself to have few deep political roots other than gun control. He ran — and served — as New York City mayor as a Republican, a Democratic and an Independent. He already is openly disavowing some of the policies he championed as mayor that are distasteful to Democratic voters in 2020.
In earlier times, Bloomberg would be vulnerable as a “party switcher” and a “flip-flopper.” In this post-Trump world, however, when an endorsement by “Judge Judy” means more than an endorsement by a former president of the United States, and when consistency truly is viewed as “the hobgoblin of little minds,” Bloomberg fits right in and is a threat to both Democrats and Republicans.