Michael Bloomberg’s Shot

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S1: Right now, I think about Michael Bloomberg as this kind of shadow presidential candidate. He’s always sort of around, but he’s never quite there. He hasn’t turned up on a debate stage. He won’t be on a ballot for weeks. But if you watch TV or open up Facebook, you cannot avoid this guy. It is a national crisis. Maybe you caught the ad he bought for the Super Bowl. The one about his campaign against gun violence.

S2: When her Margolies stepping into the ring, I thought, now we have a dog in the fight.

S1: Or there was that ad trolling President Trump ahead of the State of the Union.

S3: The real State of the Union, a nation divided by an angry out of control president.

S1: Bloomberg has even made an ad featuring endorsements from dogs.

S4: I like Mike. I like Mike.

S5: There are Mike Bloomberg ads everywhere.

S4: Books, dog. I approve this message.

S1: Mike Isaac Deveare says. The thing about being a billionaire is that someone like Mike Bloomberg can be the center of attention before he says much of anything. It’s not just the ads.

S6: No one before he was running for mayor or even now would describe him as like a natural politician.

S7: He just knows that he’s the most important person there, at least in his mind. Right.

S1: Isaac has covered Bloomberg’s political career for more than a decade.

S8: I mean, like, I’ve had a conversation with him, for example, where he ran through all of his favorite movies with me. That conversation is small talk, I guess, but like it was his favorite movie. So he wasn’t asking about yours. He didn’t get it.

S7: He’s like constantly giving a PowerPoint presentation right now.

S1: Bloomberg’s team is burning through a million dollars a week to convince voters around the country that having a president who seems constantly on the verge of delivering a PowerPoint, it may not be that bad.

S6: He sees the money Bloomberg as. Essentially a bulldozer to clear away a lot of the silliness of politics and the intransigence of politics and the entrenchment of politics.

S1: So if the Iowa caucuses have you down.

S6: Bloomberg is saying, well, I’m here and I am competent and I’ve got a record. And I’ve also got many billions of dollars. And when you guys want to get serious about this, I’ll be here.

S1: My colleague, Jim Newell. He’s called Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy for president. Performance art. But I get the sense you would disagree with that.

S6: I think there are two things about Mike Bloomberg that most people have wrap their heads around. Number one is just how much money he has. And that is because it is beyond the scale of human comprehension.

S7: He could spend a billion dollars and not even notice it. And the other thing that I think most people haven’t wrap their heads around is that Bloomberg is running to win. That’s what this is about.

S9: Today on the show, how Mike Bloomberg plans to win and what nominating Bloomberg would mean for the Democratic Party and for the rest of us. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next. Stick with us.

S1: So you’ve covered Bloomberg for a long time. And Michael Bloomberg. He’s thought about running for president before. So I’m I’m wondering what makes this time different.

S6: I wrote my first bloomburg for president. Question mark. Article in 2007.

S8: So Bloomberg thought about it starting with when he won his second term in two thousand five as mayor, as mayor. And then Bloomberg left the Republican Party in 2007 and registered as an as an independent. That was part of a plan to run as an independent for president in 2008. He had staff that started to go around the country and explore ballot access questions and put together the pieces of what would have been a run. Then and obviously never happened, but got reasonably far down the line. Then there was like talk about maybe in 2012 running, but the 2012 run very much was not like more than a couple of conversations that happen.

S1: But then you wrote in 2016 he had actually like scripted ads.

S8: Yeah. In 2016, there was a full on plan that got built and he was sensing a weakness in both the Democratic and the Republican parties. Now, that seems prescient. Yeah. You know, he was watching what was going on in the Republican Party as Donald Trump was just crushing all of the expected Republican shining lights. And on the Democratic side, the weakness of Hillary Clinton was a real consideration. Even before Bernie Sanders exposed that weakness and Bloomberg got really deep into thinking about it.

S1: But Isaac says Bloomberg schemed to get elected back in 2016. It was unorthodox. He wanted to get enough votes as an independent to trigger the involvement of Congress.

S8: Their plan, though, again, was for him to run as an independent and hope that they could win enough states to throw the election to the House of Representatives and and then win by. You know, this is all laid out in the Constitution. It’s never actually happened since. Eighteen hundred.

S10: Hold it. So the strategy was not to win all the votes, but to throw the decision to another body of government.

S8: Yeah, the way that it’s laid out in the constitution is that if nobody gets 270 electoral votes or a majority of electoral votes, then it goes to the House of Representatives and the House votes with each delegation from each state getting one vote. This happened on Veep, but not really in real life since Thomas Jefferson got elected.

S11: Well, the 2016 strategy you’re laying out seems really complicated. And I think it’s important to highlight, because this time around, Bloomberg has an equally complicated strategy, which isn’t about simply winning over the American people and getting the popular vote.

S8: Yeah. For now, what he is looking to do is to win as many delegates as he can. Maybe not winning a lot of states along the way, but delegates are awarded by the vote in congressional districts and sometimes in assembly districts. It’s very complicated internal system.

S11: I just want to be really clear because the strategy now in 2020 is to skip the early states, which have traditionally been the places you go to sort of winnow the field in and, you know, burnish your reputation and move on and make a big splash. Bloomberg really wants to make a big splash on Super Tuesday. And then it sounds like he wants to kind of go in and like work all the edges, like work, all the advantages to get all the delegates he needs. It doesn’t sound particularly Democratic.

S8: Well, what also might sound not sound particularly democratic to people is that Iowa and New Hampshire, for some reason, get this primacy in deciding who the Democratic or Republican nominee is going to be. So you’re saying pick your undemocratic method, right? Iowa, New Hampshire are not representative of the country in any real way, demographically, geographically. There are no big cities in either of them with apologies to both Des Moines and Manchester. But what Bloomberg is saying is, why do we do it this way? This is a silly way of doing it as a Pennsylvania down.

S4: There’s a caucus in Iowa. What about here?

S1: Trump is running. You can hear Bloomberg making this pitch in some of his new ads in this one. People in swing states say they want more attention.

S12: Now, he can’t afford to wait to start campaigning in the rest of the country. Some think big.

S8: In Boulder, you think it can work? Maybe.

S13: I think that we are seeing in real time as someone who spent his Monday night at a Holiday Inn in Western Moine watching a caucus go down and then the caucus come apart. We are watching all of the things that we assumed about politics over the last couple of years come apart.

S8: I mean, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. He has been impeached. He has been acquitted. And we’ve never had a president who has been impeached run for re-election before because Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both finished a president a couple of years later, rhythm both in their second terms. So in this world, everything is new. Bloomberg makes a kind of sense. I think they are hoping to people to say to people like you don’t think Iowa should go first or have this role, you should never. All right. Well, here’s your chance.

S1: I asked Isaac to talk about Bloomberg’s governing philosophy over 12 years as mayor of New York City. He took on problems other mayors had struggled with. He treated municipal systems like a business and used data to reshape how City Hall worked. He also leveraged his personal wealth to make complicated decisions simpler. Isaac says Bloomberg would slash funding in the city’s budget, but then he could backfill those cuts with anonymous donations. Bloomberg would give to political organizations he spent money on advertising.

S5: If you look one, how about the smoking ban, which was one of the first things that Bloomberg did when he was minor. There was huge resistance to that among people who just didn’t really want to change the way things were. Of course, there were a lot of people who wanted there to be a smoking ban or or or some something like that so that people couldn’t smoke in restaurants anymore. And things have been sort of moving in that direction. But there was resistance that was really well-paid from the restaurant community and business associations, restaurants that were that were advertising and that were hiring lobbyists and doing all these things. They were spending a lot of money. And Bloomberg looked at it and he spent more and and drowned them out and got the smoking man to be there. Now, in New York, the smoking ban is. So it’s just part of New York.

S10: It’s interesting to hear you talk because I think it shows this other really important tenet of how Bloomberg sort of presides. I mean, I call it the Ariana Grande day approach to leadership, which is like, I want it. I got it. Just, you know, when you can’t find a way, find someone to pay to get your way.

S6: Yet Bloomberg often gets a lot of attention for how much money he’s spent on campaigns. But when he was mayor, he ran between the three races. I think he spent about $250 million of his own money. He spent more than that between the races, funding all sorts of things, whether it was even beyond just writing checks, inviting people to come play golf and stay at his home in Bermuda, which, of course, they got to by flying to on his private plane to funding advertising campaigns, whether it’s for the smoking ban that he got in place or for some of the education changes that he got. And just using the money all the time as a way of bulldozing the opposition, of giving a support structure that people needed and wanted to be there in order to get what he wanted through and make it so that he had an agenda that was able to progress. He also used it to drown out the opposition. That is something that’s very, very special for a mayor to be able to pull off. And only he has been will do that. Imagine you can pay for your opposition to just be quiet. Then suddenly you don’t seem like you’re unpopular even in places that you might be unpopular.

S11: Yeah. I mean, you’re laying out this way that Bloomberg would use his money to benefit his political party, to benefit the city, because he could slash the budget of the city wall sort of back channeling money to organizations that would fill in services that were being cut. And, you know, also to benefit himself politically.

S14: Yeah. And he would say that it was to benefit New York, of course. And that that’s what it was. But it did seem to line up with his agenda. A lot of the time, of course.

S1: Well, here’s the question I kept asking myself, which is it seems like at the city level, at the municipal level, this approach of sort of paying for what you need to pay for. That’s something Bloomberg can do. But I wonder at the national level whether it’s possible to govern in this way just because the numbers are so different, they’re so much bigger.

S5: Yes. And I don’t think that we should expect that if he were president, he would do it in quite the same way and spend whatever it would be, a billion dollars a year backing himself up. I don’t think that we should expect that he wouldn’t do anything like that. Where he to be president.

S15: And you could see how, let’s say a President Bloomberg wanted to get an infrastructure bill passed and he was running up against resistance to it. Would he start funding advertising in certain congressional districts? Feel like? Yes, probably.

S9: This tactic of using money to silence critics, Bloomberg has done it for a long time. In a lot of different contexts.

S1: For years, Bloomberg faced allegations that women in his orbit had been mistreated. One employee said he encouraged her to kill her baby. After announcing she was pregnant, others said he’d sexualized his female workforce in this first presidential election since the metoo movement went viral. It’s an open question how Bloomberg will be asked to reckon with all this.

S16: Well, we’ve seen the beginning of it, which is that there are people who say that they have nondisclosure agreements that they would like to be released from. Bloomberg has said no. So that means that there is less that can be known or said about what happened.

S8: Although some of this has come out because of some lawsuits that that were that have a long history, not just this year, that the stuff started coming out to me.

S1: I look at the allegations from women and I see whatever happens with those allegations to be not so much a test of Bloomberg because we’ve sort of seen how he thinks about these allegations and the way he’s dismissed them and silenced people with NDAA is for me, it’s really a test of the Democratic Party and how strong they are and what they’re saying philosophically, because, you know, in the last couple of years, we’ve really seen this shift in how the Democratic Party speaks about these issues when it comes to women. And it’ll be interesting to see whether he shifts and what that might mean about the strength of the party generally.

S5: Yeah, we are in a very dynamic.

S14: And by that, I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way, just like lots of factors that are changing what’s going on in the Democratic Party and what it stands for, what it believes in. And it’s not clear that this race will fully reflect the level of churn that is going on in the party. In the end. But maybe this is going to be an issue that the Democratic Party is going to have to reckon with over the course of this next year and and picking the nominee and going into a general election. And maybe it will be something that continues to not just bubble under the surface, but really boil under the surface. Some of these questions might get brought up in a different way when it comes time for a nominee to pick a running mate, Bloomberg or Sanders. But a judge is the nominee. What each of them might do when it comes to picking a vice presidential candidate could could change someone’s thinking, too, from listening to you talk about Bloomberg.

S1: His candidacy is really propelled and like it has so much to do with his money. You feel like that is the major story of Bloomberg. It’s why he can be here. And he makes this argument that having all this money makes him less corruptible. And it’s really appealing because it’s true. Like he really doesn’t have to care what people think of him. But in some ways, I think about his candidacy, and I think that if he continues to have this momentum, the conversation we’re gonna be having as part of this Democratic primary is whether being rich makes you more corruptible or less corruptible and whether Americans care about that.

S14: Bloomberg is about the money here. There’s no question about it that the money is an enormous part of that. And when you think about what that might look like, what it would seem to the Democratic Party to be, if a candidate is able to spend his way into contention and into being the nominee, it’s a really odd fit for the party at this point. And I think would not even be within the realm of possibility if there weren’t such a level of anxiety among Democrats about beating Donald Trump. And it really just keeps come back to the money for it. For a lot of people. And that makes many other Democrats very uncomfortable. I was in an event in Iowa City the a couple of days before the caucuses with Elizabeth Warren, and she called him a danger to our democracy with the way that he is running the campaign to this point. Spending this much and skipping the early states, not him, but the campaign was a danger to our democracy.

S1: Is that part of what the other candidates see and Mike Bloomberg that makes them a little nervous? Is that is money means he can stay in the race all the way through to the nominating convention. And then if a final candidate is an obvious, the delegates will have to make a decision if Bernie Sanders ends up.

S6: Surging here, or if another candidate does, but especially if it’s Bernie Sanders and Bloomberg and Sanders end up on a collision course. What happens to the Democratic Party? What happens to the Democratic convention when you have one candidate who’s a socialist and not even a member of the party who could be the Democratic nominee and another candidate who is a mega billionaire who a former Republican spent his way into contention? That is a very strange contrast and it’s a very, almost impossible chasm.

S10: It’s an existential question. Right, because I think I think the broader point that an Elizabeth Warren is making is that if we’re selecting Michael Bloomberg as our candidate, we’re just basically admitting the billionaires are overlords.

S8: Now, I had a conversation with a longtime Democratic operative in Iowa the day or two before the caucuses who said to me that.

S5: There is a person who really does not want Donald Trump to be the president and was expressing such discomfort with the idea of Mike Bloomberg being the person who the Democrats would select and maybe to be the president, that this person was saying to me, maybe I don’t know. I definitely want Trump to win. But what it would be if Bloomberg is someone who saves us, what does that say about where we are?

S14: That conversation is going on already and will continue to go on. The stronger Bloomberg gets. But I think the other conversation that is going on and that may in the end be more powerful is Democrats who just say he has to go. This is about bigger things than whether people are worried about oligarchy or massive campaign finance spending, that Donald Trump poses such a massive, massive existential threat not to the party, but to the country that Bloomberg is hoping that they will accept that he will be there.

S1: You know, you talked early on in this interview about how Mike Bloomberg has thought about running for president before. A lot. A few times, yes. Here’s my question. Do you think Michael Bloomberg would be a viable candidate without Donald Trump to run against it?

S14: If you remove Bloomberg’s money from the equation, if you removed Donald Trump as the opposition from the equation, I’m not sure that we’re having this conversation in any way at all. But that’s the world that we live in. And Donald Trump is the candidate here. I’m not sure that Joe Biden at this point would be a viable candidate for the Democratic Party. And he himself has said as much. I’m not sure the Pete Bhuta judge would have been able to propel himself forward if not for a world in which Donald Trump or the president. I’m not sure that Bernie Sanders would. You know what we think of as the way that presidential candidates are made. He’s more like someone like Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana, who was a candidate who never made it past 1 percent in the polls. Or someone like Deval Patrick or maybe Cory Booker or even Kamala Harris, candidates who themselves would have been historic but are more in the senator mold or Elizabeth Warren obviously would be the first female president. You know, there are Bernie Sanders might end up being the nominee. He might end up being the runner up. What he has sparked in the way that people responded to him is that also a function of Donald Trump and how much politics has changed that produced Donald Trump? That’s all happening. And Mike Bloomberg is living in that world. And he may be at least he hopes he will be the major beneficiary of it.

S17: Isaac de Vera, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for having me. Isaac Dover writes for The Atlantic. He also hosts the podcast, The Ticket. If you’re looking for him online, be sure to use his full name. That’s Edward Isaac Air. All right. That’s the show. What next is produced by Mary Wilson. Jason de Leon, Daniel Hewat and Morra Silvers.

S18: I’m Mary Harris. You can get all the behind the scenes gossip about this place on my Twitter and at Mary’s desk tomorrow. Keep your eyes on this feed for what next? TBD with Lizzie O’Leary. I will catch you back here on Monday.