Bloomberg can’t win, but he could help reelect Trump
For most Democrats, rightly fixated on beating Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for President is about the last thing they need. The bitter irony is that Bloomberg, a mega-billionaire, lifelong Republican, and New York conservative, has no chance of actually winning this year’s populist-leaning Democratic nomination himself. But his candidacy holds a host of dangers for Democrats and could complicate their efforts to defeat Trump.
For one thing, Bloomberg’s campaign risks further dividing Democrats over issues of extreme wealth and economic fairness, emboldening far left candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and their supporters who see Bloomberg as the embodiment of the problem. In fact, Bloomberg’s money-fueled campaign seems to mirror or even legitimize Trump’s political approach of 2016. Of course, Bloomberg’s candidacy could also undermine Joe Biden, the candidate polls have consistently found most likely to beat Donald Trump in the general election.
Perhaps most dangerous, Bloomberg’s massive TV ad buys, with tens of millions already announced, may purchase just enough support in the huge Super Tuesday and other now early mega-primaries to prevent the Democrats from giving any single candidate a majority of delegates. This would increase the already growing chances of a brokered convention in Milwaukee this summer, potentially leaving a weakened, liberal Democratic nominee who lacks the legitimacy of gaining a majority of primary delegates.
All of this makes a mockery of Bloomberg’s stated intention that he is entering the race to increase the chances of beating Donald Trump. Instead, party leaders like Barack Obama should indicate to Democratic primary voters that Bloomberg’s erstwhile candidacy is a huge mistake, and Democrats should not support him because of these risks.
Even before Bloomberg threw his shiny silk top hat into the crowded Democratic ring, a series of changes to the Democratic nominating process and campaign practices have increased the chances that no candidate gains a majority of delegates before the convention in July.
California and other major states moved their primaries up to March, so that almost two-thirds of all Democratic delegates will be chosen by March 17. That means that money will play a much larger role in this nomination, and personal campaigning less, as Bloomberg knows, perhaps allowing him to siphon off the 15 percent generally needed in some big states to receive delegates.
Democrats have also prohibited Super Delegates from voting on the first ballot for the nomination — a decision the party arrived at after concerns that Hillary Clinton’s reliance on Super Delegates to gain the 2016 nomination alienated Sanders voters, especially the young. But the risks of increasing the chances of a far-left candidate winning the nomination, or preventing any candidate from gaining a majority, seem not to have been fully considered.
In addition, no longer can a handful of top Democratic fundraisers dominate the process, throwing support behind a moderate they view as most likely to prevail in a general election.
Add to this the sheer size of the Democratic field, with at least ten substantial candidates: including Sen. Michael Bennet (D. Colo.); former Vice President Biden; Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Bloomberg; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; Sanders and Warren — none with a strong reason to leave the race before Super Tuesday. The ability of any single candidate to gain 50 percent has never been so challenged.
All of these factors increase the chances that no candidate will gain a majority of delegates going into the convention in Milwaukee in July.
As for Bloomberg, outside of buying votes with TV ads, it’s unclear what cohort of democratic primary voters he and his campaign think he can win. None of the major groups — progressives, women, blacks, Hispanics, the young, and working-class voters — seem to have any strong reason to support him. No wonder he is polling in the low single digits. His recent apology over his “stop and frisk” policies while Mayor of New York served simply to remind progressive Democrats that he ran then as a pro-Wall Street right of center, lock-‘em-up law-and-order conservative, not exactly what most Democrats are looking for this year.
Meanwhile, the implications of a brokered Convention are not reassuring to those whose main goal is beating Trump.
In previous eras, when no candidate had a majority, party bosses would choose a nominee who seemed most likely to win in the general election. But such an outcome is unthinkable in today’s Democratic Party obsessed with fairness and meritocracy. Instead, whichever candidate has the most primary-won delegates would be almost guaranteed the nomination, no matter how weakly he or she might run against President Trump. This may well be ultra-liberal Elizabeth Warren, the major candidate (along with Sanders) perhaps most likely to lose to Trump.
Bloomberg can’t win, but any support he manages to buy could complicate Democratic efforts to beat Trump. Even moderate Democrats should wise up to this danger.
Paul Bledsoe is president of Bledsoe & Associates, a policy and communications consultancy. He is also a lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy. He served as staff member in the U.S. House, Senate Finance Committee, Interior Department and on President Bill Clinton’s White House Climate Change Task Force.
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