The Memo: Bloomberg's 2020 moves draw ire from Democrats

Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race MORE’s decision to move toward a presidential bid is frustrating many Democrats, who are adamant there is no appetite for a candidacy from the billionaire former New York City mayor.

But the situation is complicated because even those who are critical of Bloomberg acknowledge that his flirtation with a 2020 bid is emblematic of a broader concern. 

The worry among centrist Democrats is that the leading moderate in the race, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry MORE, is flawed and faltering, while the two leading progressive alternatives — Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSinger Neil Young says that America's presidents haven't done enough address climate change New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE (D-Mass.) — could be too radical to win a general election.

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One Democratic strategist who asked for anonymity to speak candidly was scornful of the former mayor’s chances.

“Oh yeah, the Bloomberg bandwagon is literally storming across the country,” this source said sarcastically.

Yet, at the same time, the strategist admitted, “There is a dynamic there that is real — that there is a sense of nervousness around the state of the field and it is not confined to any one candidate. There are concerns about the top four or five candidates. … They have all kind of plateaued.”

Many Democrats agree that there are doubts around each of the leading contenders. But, even if they have questions, they don’t generally believe Michael Bloomberg is the answer.

Democratic strategist Joel Payne cast the idea of a Bloomberg candidacy more as an expression of concern than anything close to a game changer within the 2020 race.

“This feels like a reaction from center-left, moderate Democrats. That wing of the party is growing ever-more nervous that Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders is going to be the nominee. Those folks thought Joe Biden would be a more viable candidate than he is proving to be,” Payne said.

But Payne added that the chances of a Bloomberg candidacy gaining steam were modest, not just because of the former mayor’s political limitations but because of a calendar in which the first contests — the Iowa caucuses — are less than three months away.

“Bloomberg does not really have time to make an impact,” he said. “But it’s sending a message that the folks in the middle of the party are going to voice their discontent.”

In fact, Washington Post reporter Michael Scherer tweeted Friday afternoon that Bloomberg adviser Howard Wolfson had said that, if Bloomberg ran, he would not contest any of the first four states, instead entering the race on Super Tuesday. In those later contests, Wolfson said, “we will start on an even footing."

Democrats who have not yet got solidly behind one candidate are nervous because many believe defeating President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE next year is an existential fight for American democracy itself.

They are also aware that his defeat cannot be taken for granted. Democratic anxiety on that score was given another jolt on Monday, with the publication of several battleground-state polls from The New York Times and Siena College.

The pollsters tested the three leading Democratic candidates — Biden, Sanders and Warren — against Trump in hypothetical matchups in the six states that backed Trump by the narrowest margins in 2016: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Among likely voters, they found Biden defeating Trump in five of the six states but by very narrow margins. Biden did not lead anywhere by more than 2 points. Sanders had a small edge in one state, and Warren in none. 

Democrats who had previously taken some solace from the president’s low standing in national polls were faced once again with a nightmare scenario in which Trump loses the national vote but threads the needle of an electoral college victory — exactly as he did in 2016 against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy 'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter Resistance or unhinged behavior? Partisan hatred reaches Trump's family MORE.

One of the many problems for Bloomberg, however, is that the Democratic Party seems disinclined to warm to him. 

A party that has hailed Warren’s plan for a tax on the super-rich seems unlikely to thrill to a candidate whose personal wealth is estimated to exceed $50 billion. A party that wants to eradicate racial injustice in policing will hardly rush to embrace a proponent of “stop-and-frisk” policies.

“Bloomberg and his advisers fundamentally misunderstand that the Democratic Party, when it comes to the primaries, has moved to the left,” said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic consultant and pollster. 

“This is not 1992, this is 2019. And positions like 'Medicare for All' and the Green New Deal have much stronger support in the party than they would have had eight or 12 or 16 years ago. That is a fact, based on research we have done,” Kofinis said.

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On the left, in particular, there is open antagonism to a Bloomberg candidacy.

Sanders responded to news of Bloomberg’s 2020 moves by tweeting, “The billionaire class is scared and they should be scared.”

Warren “welcomed” Bloomberg to the race by tweeting a link to an online calculator that shows how much the ultra-rich would pay under her plans.

Zeynab Day, communications director of Brand New Congress — the organization best known for its role in Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLouisiana governor wins re-election White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations Ocasio-Cortez voices support for Taylor Swift in artist's battle to perform her songs MORE's (D-N.Y.) upset primary win in 2018 — noted that her organization took no particular position on the presidential race.

But, in general, she said, anyone elected to office “should reflect the people that they are representing. We should be electing folks and individuals who have lived through what the majority of Americans live through every day.”

Bloomberg, by some measures the ninth richest person in the United States, does not exactly fit the bill.

But skepticism about Bloomberg is not only confined to the left. 

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting MORE (D-Minn.), a centrist 2020 candidate, said Friday that the billionaire’s apparent plans for a presidential run amounted to telling the existing candidates that they were not “good enough.”

“I don’t buy that and I don’t think you do either,” Klobuchar said in Iowa.

Klobuchar’s remarks point to one more strand in the anti-Bloomberg sentiment. 

His candidacy — or even rumors of it — dilutes the spotlight on moderate candidates such as her, Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE (D). 

It could also serve to underline the central point in the more left-wing worldview espoused by Sanders and Warren — that the ultra-rich have too much power and influence.

“Him entering the race makes it more likely that Warren is the nominee,” said the Democratic strategist who did not want to be named, but is not affiliated with any 2020 candidate. “Her whole narrative — and Sanders’s — is this: The wealthy, the rich, the super-rich, the billionaire have destroyed the economic system. And now, lo and behold, here comes a billionaire that is going to reinforce every one of those narratives.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency