Now we have an actual billionaire thinking about launching for president on the Democratic side. In case you missed it, Michael Bloomberg is going to register in Alabama, since deadlines are quickly approaching. Ok, we have Tom Steyer, but he has hardly caught fire. Also, Bloomberg has actual government experience since he ran the city of New York, and he was a popular mayor. So that is an advantage over those running without any government experience.
Bloomberg sees an opening, but also has noticed something the rest of us have as well. The center is not holding. Joe Biden continues to stumble, and his polls, like Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, started high but continue to degrade. At this pace, assuming he won the nomination, he would likely lose to Trump in a general election. Incidentally, a few months ago I said to friends he would, because of what Biden represents, and he is not a good campaigner.
This is a risk Bloomberg is not willing to take.
However, there is another factor here for the very rich. The people who are likely going to win that nomination, from current numbers, are populists like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. He understands that we are living in a populist moment. Whether this is the populism of the right or left is immaterial. While Trump likely helped Bloomberg with the tax cuts, which have increased income inequality, either Sanders or Warren are not running on helping people like him. In fact, they would love to tax them, to help pay for what they are promising. Both are talking of a wealth tax to help pay for their programs. The plutocrats are not impressed.
To correct some of this income inequality we also need a progressive tax, and the billionaires need to pay more, perhaps return to the levels of the 1960s. This is not popular among most billionaires. It does raise the question of when enough is enough? So even the talk of taxation sends many of them into paroxysms of anger. This is part of the current economic system, which favors the hoarding of goods and money. They like that.
Moreover, some of the state polls show that at least one-third of Democrats have yet to decide who they will vote for in the primaries. Also, specific polls for specific swing states show that things are getting tighter. I know, it is way early, but the data is what it is. Bloomberg thinks he can do what the current crop cannot: Defeat Trump. In his mind this is essential.
This is sure to upend the primary. For the moment, Biden, Warren, and Sanders lead the way. Bloomberg has resources none of them do. He also has the name recognition that Steyer does not. He is part of that political and economic Eastern elite that Trump has railed against. Never mind that Trump is part of it as well. His base has assumed otherwise because they believe a self-described billionaire cares about their needs.
Now, for Trump, this is likely bad news. And I mean this for Trump’s ego. Unlike Trump, Bloomberg made the list of global billionaires without any prompting or campaigning. He also was a fairly popular mayor and could likely win another term, however, he was termed out. In fact, some rules were changed to allow him to serve a third term.
Bloomberg is not popular with some in the left of center, because he was on the leading edge of health-centric laws. They saw them as very intrusive, like telling us the caloric content of meals. Or for that matter taxing sugary drinks the same way cigarettes are. Both of these policies were championed by the World Health Organization. They have been enacted in different places around the world, and are part of the toolset to fight a global obesity epidemic. That they are not working as well as we expected is another story.
He was also against living wage laws (you expect a billionaire to be in favor of living wage laws, rent control, or union rights?) So in some ways he was a mixed bag. As mayor, he was a center-right politician in the mold of the neoliberal establishment that has dominated American politics for the last forty years. He is quite the status quo ante, Trump.
But will he shake up things? Yes. For the moment, he is just filing to run. We do not have a signal that he is fully entering the race, yet. It is more akin to a break in case of a fire situation. But with his resources, he can build a ground operation fast. So watch for the organization to start hiring campaign strategists and the rest of the items for a ground operation. It is a signal. And when Trump says he would like to run against Bloomberg and is already testing branding, we know he is taking this as seriously as some in the commentariat. However, running against Bloomberg’s record as mayor will be interesting to watch, given the chaos that is the Trump administration.