All right, after teaching my first two periods of the day, I’m finally ready to respond to the big news. It looks like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is ready to make a belated entry into the 2020 race.
The bulk of this post will quote from my initial 2020 Power Rankings (posted back in March), when I ranked Bloomberg the ninth most likely nominee. It gave a general overview of what I though Bloomberg’s strengths and weaknesses were coming into the race. I’ll also offer updated comments on those initial thoughts in the context of this developing story. At the end, I’ll determine where I’d slot him were I to update the latest Power Rankings with him included.
1. “I get the impression he’s waiting on Joe Biden’s decision. If Biden runs, Bloomberg won’t, and then the Mayor will be off this list altogether. If Biden doesn’t run, Bloomberg will, and he’ll move into major planet status.”
Welp, Biden obviously ran, and Bloomberg announced he wasn’t entering the race. However, there’s a general agreement that Biden has been, shall we say, “underwhelming”? The former Vice President is now seen as a much more fragile general election candidate than previously thought. It’s likely that Bloomberg is not only underwhelmed with Biden, but also with the entire Democratic field. Indeed, there have been reports lately that the donor class — the kind of people that don’t want an Elizabeth Warren nomination, she’ll be happy to remind you — are unhappy with these options. From those reports we get rumors that Hillary Clinton would be the preferred candidate of big donors, and we always seem not too far removed from a news cycle that suggests she’s waiting in the wings. Bloomberg aims to fill that Clinton role before Clinton fills it herself.
2. As the only billionaire in the race, he has the ability to entirely self-fund his campaign, and he can make the argument that only he has the financial success to neutralize a common argument of his party’s Republican opponent.
This advantage remains (though Tom Steyer is also a billionaire candidate). It’s reasonable to expect that Democrats will enjoy the TV graphics showing Bloomberg’s $50 billion net worth towering over the President’s three billion, which should bother our narcissist-in-chief. There’s also a compelling case that Bloomberg, who grew up in a middle class household, came into that wealth in a more impressive manner than Trump, who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars, and has been more charitable with that wealth.
Importantly for Democrats, he’s used much of his wealth to push Democratic issues, like gun control and action against climate change, to say nothing of being a huge donor toward Democrats in the 2018 midterms, when he spent about $112 million dollars. That should resonate.
3. A philanthropist, Bloomberg also led the liberal charge against climate change and for gun control (before those were central planks of modern Democratic policy) not only by trying to move the debate on those issues but also by pouring money into organizations that shared his vision. And yet, as mayor he was officially a Republican then Independent. Though his slide later settled on the Democratic Party, his background shows the ability to understand the other side.
It’s all looking good so far, but here we have an advantage and disadvantage in one. This is important: I don’t see Bloomberg pulling support from Warren and Sanders. He’s too cross-overy for the Left. He’s a former Republican (which, it should be noted, Warren is too) with friends in high places and links to independent and right-leaning voters who might not like Trump, so I think he can only pull from candidates making their pitches as the more moderate, “electable” candidate.
That’s bad news for Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who finally seem to have footholds. Buttigieg looks amazing in Iowa, while Klobuchar, now up to fifth in Iowa and sixth nationally, just became the sixth candidate to qualify for the December debate. Most of all, Biden himself should be nervous. Bloomberg’s entry, and the buzz toward such an entry, is a condemnation of the Biden candidacy by big Democratic donors and others worried about the general election. Biden should remain in the national lead, but Bloomberg will peel away some percentage points and make Warren look stronger by comparison.
4. I reached out to a former high-ranking New York City employee under Bloomberg, one who liked working for him and was proud of what his boss accomplished as Mayor. He said, “I don’t think he’d be a bad president” but “I wouldn’t be voting for him in a primary with more inspirational leaders.” . . . Regularly cited as the greatest weakness of Biden and Sanders, Bloomberg, as my source described, is “an old, white man with old, white man solutions.” At 77, he’s five months younger than Sanders and nine months older than Biden. While no person should be ruled out as a result of their sex or age, the modern Democratic Party seems to be giving up on the old regime who handed us our modern problems and now claims they can solve them.
This is still relevant. “Another one of these guys?” some might ask. Can Bloomberg really offer sufficient aesthetic contrast to make a run at the nomination? Or does his entry merely make Warren, Harris, or Booker look better by comparison?
5. The key difference between Bloomberg and the other two men, however, is that Biden and Sanders are already nationally known and popular names. Bloomberg, who usually polls at two percent, has too much work to do to win over skeptical Democratic voters.
These are still concerns for a Bloomberg Campaign. Nationally, he was nowhere. In Iowa, a poll from his own company found him with only a 17% favorable number from Democrats against a 26% unfavorable. In March, a Des Moines Register poll found him with a -11 favorability in the state (27/38). These numbers were probably among the reasons he chose not to run.
It didn’t look like Democrats — whether across the nation or in the important opening state — were clamoring for a Bloomberg candidacy.
Final Analysis and Ranking
But are they now? I sometimes see reports of sky high anxiety from Democrats that President Trump will get re-elected, and that no one in this field is well-positioned to beat him. For any Democratic voter feeling that way, such a late, dramatic entrance from a man who with one check made out to his own campaign can outspend every dollar raised by the Trump campaign can seem like an attractive option.
Then again, Tom Steyer is a decent enough proxy for the Bloomberg campaign, and he’s only registering a few points in states where he pours millions of dollars into TV ads. No one’s begging for a billionaire savior. I also think the idea of an “underwhelming field” is a nearly quadrennial narrative. It certainly occurred four years ago with the GOP, then the party won the presidency anyway. FiveThirtyEight looked at Pew surveys of prior Democratic fields and charted the following for us:
In other words: for better or worse, legitimate or not, Democrats have actually never liked their choices more before. That shows us people aren’t praying for another option (unless that other option is named Michelle Obama, of course).
We even have recent, Bloomberg-specific polling. A Fox News poll from just this past Sunday found that not much has changed with his national popularity. It asked its Democratic respondents to hypothesize a late entry from three big name candidates: Bloomberg, Clinton, and Michelle Obama. Here were the results:
Michelle Obama’s popularity is no surprise (but my goodness — 50%?!), but what might be surprising is how there is even less interest in a Bloomberg candidacy than there is in a third Clinton run, which is generally considered by most Democrats as a non-starter.
Meanwhile, as good as Bloomberg might currently seem to a nervous Democrat, it’s worth noting he hasn’t been tested at all these last few months. Every candidate has had to withstand the pressure cooker of a presidential campaign. Biden took a ton of heat when he was dominating all the polls, then Warren’s unchecked climb ended as soon as she became the front-runner. When Bloomberg gets in, he, too, would draw skepticism. I suspect he’d ultimately do little to clean up Democrats’ soiled bed sheets.
Nevertheless, all considered, I think I’d make him the fifth most likely nominee. There are too many things going right for the top four right now, and the fourth among that group, Bernie Sanders, won’t be hurt at all by Bloomberg’s entry. However, the candidates outside of that top four — Harris, Klobuchar, Booker, and the rest — could easily be toppled once Bloomberg starts throwing his money around, which, combined with the drama of a late entry, will likely draw a quick handful of points and slot him fifth overall.
Time for fourth period. See you Monday.