Strike another one off the long list of possible Democratic 2020 hopefuls: Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday that he will not run for president. “I believe I would defeat Donald Trump in a general election,” the former New York City mayor wrote in an op-ed published by the news outlet that bears his name. “But I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field.”
Bloomberg suggested he’ll spend the time and money he would have spent on a 2020 run instead on a variety of specific causes, including the launch of a new climate campaign aimed at transitioning the United States to a carbon-free economy. “Should I devote the next two years to talking about my ideas and record, knowing that I might never win the Democratic nomination?” he wrote. “Or should I spend the next two years doubling down on the work that I am already leading and funding, and that I know can produce real and beneficial results for the country, right now? I’ve come to realize that I’m less interested in talking than doing.”
The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise. Bloomberg has been teasing a presidential run for more than a decade, but he seemed to be moving ever closer to one in the age of Donald Trump. After pulling the plug on an independent bid in 2016 over fears he’d accidentally swing the election to the GOP nominee, Bloomberg spent a reported $100 million helping Democrats in the 2018 midterms—cash that also bought him plenty of goodwill with party leaders. His team then stoked speculation further with the news that he planned to spend “at least” $500 million of his own fortune to help Democrats retake the White House in 2020. At the time, it sounded an awful lot like Bloomberg fancied himself as the man for that job, which as I pointed out made his pledge seem a little self-serving. But now that he’s not running, such spending would look far more altruistic—assuming of course he follows through on that plan. His op-ed makes no mention of the half-billion investment his advisers were touting to Politico less than a month ago.
Bloomberg was always going to be an awkward fit in a Democratic field that is tacking leftward. He’s a billionaire who defends big business and Wall Street, and he’s a former Republican mayor who is still defending his administration’s reliance on stop-and-frisk searches that predominantly targeted men of color. He also would have entered the race as an older white man—one either uninterested in or unable to speak the language of today’s left—at a time when the Democratic base is increasingly interested in candidates who know firsthand what it’s like to live in America as anything but that. Meanwhile, he lacks the Obama nostalgia of Joe Biden or the buzz of a fresher face like Beto O’Rourke, both of whom have a far more natural coalition within the Democratic Party than Bloomberg would. The conventional wisdom in D.C. was that Bloomberg was unlikely to run if Biden did. If nothing else, then, look for Bloomberg’s decision to spark a fresh round of reports suggesting the former veep is this close to finally making a decision he’s been agonizing over for years.