Mike Bloomberg really gets under Trump's skin — and that's good for Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg really gets under Trump's skin — and that's good for Bloomberg
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Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBiden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say Sanders takes lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll Bloomberg campaign warns of 'insurmountable' Sanders lead if moderates split votes MORE, still a long shot to win the Democratic presidential nomination, has an important booster: Donald J. Trump.

The billionaire former New York City mayor is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on his effort and attacking the president.

He may be replacing Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE as the top target of Trump's tweet attacks — and that would be welcome news for Bloomberg. There is nothing that unites Democrats more than drawing Trump's ire; in Democratic politics, ‘Trump’s enemy is our friend.’

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There could be a parallel to 1966 when Richard M. Nixon, a former Vice President and failed gubernatorial candidate, was considered a has-been. Then his presidential bid got a big boost when he was attacked by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, paving the way for his nomination and election.

Trump now is assailing the Democratic candidate as "Mini Mike" — one of his more feeble insults — and charging, without merit, that Bloomberg has "personal problems." He went ballistic over a Bloomberg ad assailing the administration on health care, especially threatening protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Trump claimed he was the one guaranteeing this protection. The fact is Trump has brought a suit to end that protection.

The New York Times’ Maggie HabermanMaggie Lindsy HabermanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden leaving New Hampshire early as voting underway The Hill's 12:30 Report: Senators brace for floor fight as trial nears end Mike Bloomberg really gets under Trump's skin — and that's good for Bloomberg MORE, a premier Trump watcher, reported that top advisers — including his politically tone-deaf son-in-law, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBlagojevich heaps praise on Trump after release from prison The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Trump unleashed: President moves with a free hand post-impeachment MORE — advised him to ignore Bloomberg. Trump has “repeatedly expressed anxiety” over Bloomberg's deep pockets.

Look for more Trump attacks, which — like LBJ and Nixon more than a half century ago — will only help the Democrat.

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One of the reasons Bloomberg drives Trump crazy is that he's everything the president pretends or would like to be: a genuinely rich billionaire who built an enormously successful company, is a much admired philanthropist and respected by New York elites. (Full disclosure: for 14 years, until last January, I worked for Bloomberg News and the Opinion.)

Worth more than $50 billion, Bloomberg is at least 25 times richer than Trump, whose true wealth, it's suspected, is much less than he claims. In contrast to Bloomberg's wide-ranging charitable activities, Trump's foundation was shut down after being charged with "persistently illegal conduct," and Trump was fined by court order.

Until Bloomberg got into the fray late last year, Trump enjoyed a huge money advantage as Democratic presidential candidates battled each other. But the former New York Mayor is spending not only on his own campaign ads, but he’s also buying ads attacks on Trump, including pro-impeachment ads, and making major digital buys, leveling the playing field.

With the massive spending, Bloomberg is inching up in national polls, tied for fourth with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll 2020 Democratic candidates support Las Vegas casino workers on debate day What to watch in the debate tonight MORE, in single digits, behind front runners Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll 2020 Democratic candidates support Las Vegas casino workers on debate day Sanders takes lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll MORE (D-Mass.).

Bloomberg’s chances may largely depend on Biden. If the former Vice President wins the Iowa caucuses and then later next month two of the other early contests, Nevada and South Carolina, he becomes a formidable front runner. That undercuts the Bloomberg rationale that the New Yorker would be the only one who could stop Sanders and then beat Trump in the fall.

If Biden falters in February, however, Bloomberg’s theory of the case will start to resonate.

In addition to the huge ad buys, the Bloomberg camp — with basically unlimited resources — is hiring talented political organizers and operatives around the country, paying them far more than they're making elsewhere.

The campaign has made several good moves in choosing attractive venues and enlisting second-tier politicians like Chicago Congressman Bobby RushBobby Lee RushMLB, Congress play hardball in fight over minor leagues Democrats praise Romney for breaking with GOP on convicting Trump Democrats criticize Medal of Freedom for Limbaugh as 'slap in the face' MORE. (Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested, on Hill TV, that she may support the former New York Mayor; that would be a first-tier endorsement.)

Other Democrats, however, still wonder if its top command is up to the rigors of a tough, contested race.

Bloomberg won't be able to keep avoiding media scrutiny on thorny  questions: Does he still think that China's Xi Jingping isn't a dictator, as he said in an interview last fall; can he distance himself from his global business interests in places like China and Saudi Arabia; why won't he release his financial assets and tax returns before the big March primaries?

As an antidote to Trump, these all are requisites.

Bloomberg has said if elected he will sell his company or put it in a blind trust; it'd have to be sold, as any trust wouldn't be blind.

And he's likely to get more flak for the foolish decision to paralyze the Bloomberg News' political coverage by declaring it can't do any probing reporting on Bloomberg himself or other Democratic candidates — but will still investigate Trump. That has afforded the president the shot to outrageously threaten to cut off Bloomberg News from White House coverage.

For now, this is overshadowed by a gift: “Mini Mike” is driving Trump crazy.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.