Michael Bloomberg was never going to be president of the United States. Then again, the same thing was said about Donald Trump four years ago. But Trump never blinked, and Bloomberg just did, withdrawing from the emergent presidential race without ever formally entering it.
For the former three-term mayor of New York City, now 77, this surely will be the last of his quadrennial flirtations with the presidency, and now he’ll never know what might have been. It must be galling for him to see his old acquaintance in Manhattan-billionaire circles having gained the throne. Bloomberg once said that it would be impossible for a “short, divorced, Jewish billionaire” from New York to become president, but Trump reminded us that the unlikeliest characters can achieve the impossible in America.
That’s not to say that Bloomberg’s money won’t be a factor over the next 20 months. Forbes just ranked him the ninth-richest person on the planet. He’s worth $55.5 billion and spent more than $100 million promoting Democrats in last fall’s midterm elections. Now he’s promised a cash tsunami to help wrest the White House from Trump.
Money is a critical commodity in American politics, but Bloomberg is likely to find that recipients of his support will say “thank you” but then go on to do precisely what they want with his dough. He’s mostly pushing climate change and gun control, niche issues that excite elite audiences (and the media) but don’t do much for rank-and-file voters.
But it’s his money, and evicting Trump is his mission. “It’s essential that we nominate a Democrat who will be in the strongest position to defeat Donald Trump,” says the noncandidate, who became a Democrat last year, presumably so that he could run for president. “We cannot allow the primary process to drag the party to an extreme that would diminish our chances in the general election and translate into ‘Four More Years.’”
The irony here is that the Democratic primary field is a cavalry troop of candidates whose views range from ridiculously progressive to dangerously hard-left. And Bloomberg has already started tossing stink bombs at the far-left caucus, ridiculing the Green New Deal as having “no chance” of passage. If the Democrats are this far adrift, who better to help them reverse course than Bloomberg? His views, adjusted for current Democratic standards, are mostly moderate. He demonstrated political aptitude in three New York City campaigns, and while he competed in a unique electoral climate, he did demonstrate transferrable skills and tactical expertise. Having more than $300 million on hand to spend didn’t hurt, either. (Bloomberg was worth a mere $5 billion back then.)
What probably held him back from a presidential run is the need to do something for which he has never shown an appetite—out-in-the-open, thumb-in-the-eye retail politicking, the kind that Trump used to clear the 17-candidate Republican primary field, on his way to beating Hillary Clinton. Ambition and strongly held views just aren’t enough these days, absent the appetite for taking and delivering punches. Again, money matters—Trump also proved that four years ago—but courage matters more.
Bloomberg doesn’t have it, at least not for a presidential run. Bowing out, he leaves the strategic Democratic middle to “moderates” such as Joe Biden and, perhaps, Andrew Cuomo—choices for which history may find it hard to forgive him.
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