During this weekend’s Super Bowl, fans will be inundated with commercials for Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden cannot allow his domestic fumbles to transfer to the world stage Jovanni Ortiz in talks for potential Harris job The economic challenges facing Jerome Powell and Joe Biden MORE’s presidential campaign. But, as opposed to watching the amusing beer and snacks commercials, fans probably will restock their beer and snacks during the former New York mayor’s commercials.
In spite of spending a reported hundreds of millions of dollars, the Bloomberg campaign, such as it is, already is on the rocks because of a terrible strategy, poor execution and a weak candidate.
The result is shocking and disappointing to many. A large number of moderate, centrist Americans likely looked to Bloomberg as a savior. Many grasp that President TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE’s economic and foreign policies have positive effects but might be destroyed by the radical progressives dominating the Democratic primary field. They find former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE to be weak and unsteady, and not a little suspect since he often shows his mean streak. They worry that Trump’s Democratic challengers lack the executive experience to manage the U.S. government.
These people believed that Bloomberg was a strong, solid moderate with tremendous executive experience who could reliably take charge without destroying some of the progress made over the past three years in the economy, trade policy and foreign policy. That was Bloomberg’s winning brand — but it has been all but obliterated over the past couple of months.
The campaign has made six huge mistakes.
The first mistake was the “apology.” Americans are acutely aware of the collapse of our major cities. Excrement and needles on the streets of San Francisco, attacks on police in New York, Antifa attacks on the citizens of Portland, rampant killings in Chicago, the return of the Dark Ages and the bubonic plague in Los Angeles. Americans want someone to fix our cities.
Bloomberg was that person. His “stop, question and frisk” policy helped to reduce crime and get guns off the streets of New York, likely saving the lives of thousands of poor and minority residents. But Bloomberg caved to minor pressure from the progressive left and apologized for this program. He started his campaign by showing how weak he is. He was not the person to clean up American cities; he was a daisy wilting on a hot New York summer sidewalk.
His second mistake was his use of money. Massive wealth cannot be used to buy an election. Its major power is as a buffer. When you’re that wealthy, you can say what you want and be strong and “real.” Trump did it brilliantly. He made himself immune to attacks. He doesn’t care. He didn’t spend his billions on TV ads in the 2016 election; he organized huge rallies and made himself appear larger than life. He confronted his opponents in person. He debated. He was big. Bloomberg has hidden. He has made himself smaller. He doesn’t face huge crowds. He doesn’t debate, doesn’t test his ideas. He hides behind a tidal wave of TV ads. Americans understand that weakness and won’t allow someone to buy the presidency.
His third huge mistake was showing his personal animus toward Trump. Everyone attacks Trump personally and it hasn’t been very effective so far. Offering to support any ultimate Democratic candidate to defeat Trump has painted Bloomberg further into the “radical left” corner. Would he really spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill White House 'strongly opposes' Senate resolution to stop Saudi arms sale MORE (I-Vt.) elected? Again, he destroys his brand. Many of the voters he needs are the centrists who detest Trump’s behavior but are more aligned with his policies than with those of the radical progressive “revolutionaries.” Bloomberg desperately needs to attract those voters, but he has done everything to turn them off.
His fourth mistake is to spend so much on weak commercials. There’s no passion in them, no pop. Politics and television are “hot media.” You need to grab and hold viewers/voters, but Bloomberg puts them to sleep. He generally looks like a deer in the headlights.
Closely related, the fifth mistake is that Bloomberg’s positions are weak. The “Mike can do it” or “Mike’s a great manager” theme is lifeless in this age of social media and short attention spans. A winning candidate needs to have an edge, to have passion, to control the news cycle. Trump does this every day. He has forced the Democratic field to take increasingly extreme positions to compete for attention. Bloomberg is nearly invisible in the news cycle. That will never win.
Finally, Bloomberg so far is a weak candidate personally. His tone-deaf apology, disastrous treatment of women’s issues, and defense of repressive Chinese government crackdowns kills his campaign. Although a great Horatio Alger story, he appears reedy, weak and afraid “to get into the arena.” Outspending other candidates by huge multiples may have worked for him in his mayoral race, but it won’t elevate him to the presidency. It is telling that his hometown newspaper, the New York Times, did not endorse him, opting instead for a socialist “story-teller” and a relatively unknown senator from Minnesota.
A professional national political campaign manager once told me that his job was to “take a plucked chicken, convince voters it was a 747, and claim it could carry 500 passengers with minor modifications.” Unfortunately, this chicken, fully plucked by campaign managers and television ad sales teams, can’t fly.
Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @GradyMeans.