Michael Bloomberg's billions can't save an unserious campaign

Ever since seeing firsthand how then-candidate Donald Trump would connect with voters in the 2016 campaign, I’ve been asked time and again who would be the best candidate to take on the president in 2020. A single archetype always came to mind — a job creator, an American success story, someone who could self-fund his campaign and not feel the need to bow to establishment donors or a responsibility to play by the political rules.

Someone like Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Krystal Ball warns about lagging youth support for Buttigieg Bloomberg unveils proposal to increase earned income tax credit, federal funding for housing programs MORE.

But following his official entrance into the 2020 Democratic presidential race this week, I’m starting to think that I may have been wrong this entire time.

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If there’s something to learn from 2016, it’s that voters are looking for excitement. They want a campaign they can believe in. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE (I-Vt.) understood this in 2016 — and, had the DNC not worked so hard to give Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats seek leverage for trial Davis: Trump vs. Clinton impeachments – the major differences Sharice Davids to vote for Trump impeachment articles: 'The facts are uncontested' MORE the nomination, the Democratic leadership might have realized it too. Heading into 2020, Bernie is still one of the candidates to understand and harness this force on the campaign trail. He still draws large crowds, and his core base of supporters genuinely believes in the “revolution” he advocates.

As for Mike? His first speech as a candidate literally put me to sleep.

The energy just isn’t there, but if energy were the only problem, I’d see a little more hope. In today’s Democratic field, where big promises and big grievances define the game, it’s tough for another nearly-80-year-old moderate to carve out a dominant position for himself — especially when he supported President George W. Bush, rode Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Horowitz: 'Very concerned' about FBI leaks to Giuliani MORE’s endorsement to become mayor of New York City, and supported the 2012 challenger to progressive darling Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE (D-Mass.).

The appetite for a former registered Republican in a Democratic primary is pretty low.

However, Mike Bloomberg is smart; no one could ever genuinely claim otherwise. He realizes that in order to have any chance of meeting the Democratic base where they are, he’s going to have to apologize. A lot.

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White. Male. Billionaire. He has a lot of problems he has to address before we even start criticizing his tenure as a tough-on-crime New York City mayor. Apologizing to the Democratic base for stop-and-frisk was a first step, but — apparently — it’s not even close to enough. Google his name and look at the articles that come up — from everywhere. This may be the first time since 2015 I’ve seen so many attack articles written about a man whose name isn’t Donald Trump.

But beyond all that, let’s just step back for a second and take in how ridiculous this “campaign” really is. The candidate honestly believes he can waltz into the primary at his leisure, and the voters will see him as the moderate savior — the one to rescue the Democratic Party from a socialist takeover by two New England senators. With billions in the bank, he thinks he can purchase the race with $30 million-plus ad-buys every few weeks until Super Tuesday, ignoring entirely the Iowa Caucus and the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.

And, in trying to forge some veiled form of credibility, the news network literally named after him made an announcement that it “will continue [its] tradition of not investigating Mike (his family and foundation) and will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries.” I assume the leadership of Bloomberg LP thought this statement would eliminate any perceived conflicts of interest between its ownership and things like ... reality.

As for President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE? Bloomberg reporters will “continue to investigate the Trump administration, as the government of the day.” At least they’re honest about their intentions.

To gain any real sense of credibility, Bloomberg LP’s editors should commit to ignoring all material that could be construed as commenting on U.S. politics, including “the government of the day.” Assuming they continue their current path, it would be appropriate for the FEC, at the very least, to look into treating them as what they are: a media extension of the Democratic Party. News coverage by Bloomberg LP had its genesis in the markets — I’m sure it would get along just fine going back to its roots.

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This brings up a more important point. From what we’ve seen so far, the only thing Mike Bloomberg is serious about is buying advertisements and increasing expenditures used to advocate against Trump, as he did in 2018. In fact, there seems to be more “anti-Trump” material coming out of his funding than “pro-Bloomberg” material.

As a candidate, there is no limit on how much of his own money he can use to further his “campaign.” He has much more leeway on ad purchases now than he’s ever had before as a political activist helping candidates or promoting legislative goals. Is this “run” just a way to expand the influence of his funds and use them in a far more impactful way?

Maybe, as he makes it sound, this campaign truly isn’t about him becoming the nominee. Maybe it’s strictly about increasing the impact of his spending to do the most he can against Donald Trump, regardless of who the nominee actually is.

Remember that Mike Bloomberg is very smart. However, even the smartest among us make mistakes, some more expensive than others. It was reported even before he hopped into the race that Bloomberg planned to spend at least $100 million in 2020 on anti-Trump online ads alone. Now that he’s in the race, and there’s no limit on how much additional money he can spend on his own “campaign,” that figure is likely to climb higher and higher.

He can act as the moderate savior and spend however he’d like — but Democratic primary voters, awash in a climate that questions the morality of billionaires even existing, will be ready to remind him that votes can’t be bought.

Beyond ads, truth remains — and as long as Democrats refuse to learn the lessons of 2016 and that messages — more than money — win elections, the investments made by this brilliant businessman are likely to return zero.  

Corey R. Lewandowski is President Trump’s former campaign manager and a senior adviser to the Great America Committee, Vice President Mike Pence's political action committee. He is co-author with David Bossie of the new book, “Trump’s Enemies,” and of “Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency.” Follow him on Twitter @CLewandowski_.