Opinion - Politics

Here's why Mike Bloomberg thinks he can defy the odds and win the Democratic nomination

John Ellis, editor of online publication News Items
Key Points
  • Mike Bloomberg's candidacy isn't as hopeless as some have suggested, writes former Boston Globe columnist John Ellis.
  • It's a long shot, for sure. But most presidential candidacies are long shots, until they're not.
Newly announced Democratic presidential candidate, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during a press conference to discuss his presidential run on November 25, 2019 in Norfolk, Virginia.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

And so America turns its lonely eyes to a 77-year-old Jewish billionaire from New York. Low energy Mike! Eight months ago he passed on joining the Democratic field, perhaps because it seemed hopeless and perhaps because it seemed an unwelcome addition to his too-fast-approaching obituary. No one, least of all Mr. Bloomberg, wants to go out a loser.

But here he is, in it to win it, and unlike anyone who has sought the presidency before him (even Nelson Rockefeller), Bloomberg has the ability to spend $2 billion in pursuit of the prize and plenty more after that if need be. So let's not waste another minute on the "resources" question, which is usually the first question asked of a candidate in American presidential politics.

He'll be fine.

The second question is: does he have a base within the Democratic Party's primary and caucus-attending electorate? The answer to that question is "no, he does not." The third question is: does that spell doom for his candidacy? The answer to that question is "no, it does not."

Why not?

Back in June, I wrote a column (which seemed fresh at the time) about how the Democratic presidential primary campaign would quickly boil down to two finalists: the candidate of the party's "progressive" core and the candidate of "electability." At the time, it seemed like Elizabeth Warren would emerge as the former and that Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg would stand as the latter. Also at the time, those two macro constituencies (let's-do- something-"big" vs. let's-beat-Trump-and-worry-about-the-rest-later) seemed more-or-less evenly matched.

No longer.

In mid-July, Nate Cohn wrote an analysis piece for The New York Times that got everyone's attention. The sub-headline was: "(Trump's) reelection looks plausible even with a bigger loss in the national popular vote." The thrust of the piece was (for Democrats) chilling: Trump could lose the popular vote by as much as 7% and still win a second term.

Mr. Cohn was not finished. A couple of weeks ago, he wrote another piece about the president's reelection prospects, this time through the lens of six "battleground state" polls conducted by The New York Times and Siena College. Democratic victories in the battlegrounds, he wrote, were far from assured. A key sub-group was missing:

The party's leading candidates have not yet reached the real missing piece of the Democratic coalition: less educated and often younger voters who are not conservative but who disagree with the party's cultural left and do not share that group's unrelenting outrage at the president's conduct.

Bummer!

Democrats had hoped that the intervening four months would render Cohn's July article moot, or at least less persuasive. They had been cheered by summer polls showing Biden beating Trump in states like Wisconsin and Ohio and Michigan. Trump was even polling poorly in Texas! Democratic hopes rose accordingly, only to be doused with icy water by Mr. Cohn from the pages of The New York Times, no less.

Adding insult to injury, Dan Balz of The Washington Post (political journalism's modern-day equivalent to David Broder), reported on Sunday that a new Marquette University Law School poll showed Trump in reasonably good shape in Wisconsin (for him) and that his standing had improved (albeit incrementally) since the start of the House impeachment hearings. Wisconsin, Mr. Balz noted, may well be the state that proves decisive in the electoral college tally.

Double bummer.

All the while Democratic voters nationally have been moving inexorably toward the view that the party should drop its ideological prerequisites and nominate the most electable candidate, period. A recent Gallup survey confirmed the decisive shift in preference:

Six in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer to see the party nominate the candidate with the best chance of beating President Donald Trump, even if that person does not share their views on key issues. By contrast, 36% say they would rather have the reverse: a candidate aligned with them on almost all the issues they care about, even if that person is not the most electable.

The Gallup analysis continued:

There are too few conservative Democrats in this survey to analyze, but liberal and moderate Democrats' views on this question are similar: 67% of liberals and 57% of moderates say they prefer a candidate who can beat Trump, even if that person differs from them on almost all issues."

Which brings us back to Michael Bloomberg.

There are two ways things can go in the "electability" half of the bracket. Biden can win by default. ("There is no one else more likely to beat Trump, so we might as well throw in with Joe.") Or he can get crushed in Iowa and New Hampshire by a 37-year-old gay mayor from South Bend, Indiana, and as a result, watch his candidacy collapse. The latter outcome would leave Buttigieg as the commander of the "electability" army, which (assuming the polling is accurate) enjoys an overwhelming numerical advantage over the "progressive" battalions.

It's on the latter scenario that Mr. Bloomberg's candidacy hinges. His handlers are presuming that having seen Mr. Biden dispatched and Mr. Buttigieg all-but-anointed, the Democratic primary electorate in the Super Tuesday states (and beyond) would recoil with buyer's remorse and scramble to find a more "suitable" (meaning "not gay," although no one will ever admit it) replacement.

And there waiting for them, with literally billions of dollars ready to spend and open arms, would be Michael Bloomberg: Calm, competent, uncharismatic, efficient, former Republican, ruthless billionaire Michael Bloomberg, with an unholy host of political consultants and pollsters ready, willing and able to fan out across every last cable news show to explain why, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Mike Bloomberg was the most electable Democrat in November. (Maybe the most electable candidate in the history of mankind, if it was late enough at night.)

At that point, having failed to impeach President Trump and having seen his poll numbers improve ever so slightly through the process, Democratic primary voters would cry out: "Enough is enough, bring us the billionaire."

That's the idea, anyway.

It's plausible, or at least plausible enough. The instant analysis of the last few days from the cable news talking heads has been: "This will show us if money can buy an election." Wrong. He's not spending any money in any of the "key" early states. He's not even campaigning there. His entire campaign depends upon a pandemic onset of buyer's remorse. What Super Tuesday (March 3) will show us is whether he correctly anticipated the electorate's disposition or got run over by its predispositions.

Assume that he wins the nomination. Can he win the general election? We'll get to the question in a subsequent "column." But the short answer is: Donald Trump won in 2016. Anything is possible.

John Ellis is the Editor of News Items and a former columnist for The Boston Globe. You can reach him at jellis41@protonmail.com. You can sign up for the News Items newsletter here.

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