Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a smart guy. He not only made billions in the business world but he also got elected mayor of a massive city three times. All of which makes his seeming blind spot about how his persona could hurt his newly announced effort to build a grassroots gun control group that rivals the NRA all the more perplexing.
“I don’t know what your perception is of our reputation, and mine, the name Bloomberg around the country,” Bloomberg told the New York Times' Jeremy Peters, adding that wherever he goes people tell him: “You’re a rock star. People yelling out of cabs, ‘Hey, way to go!’" Later in the piece, Bloomberg drops this doozy: "I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
So, that happened.
It seems quite clear from those quotes that Bloomberg doesn't fully grasp how he is viewed by many people outside of major cities and the Northeast. While many in New York City -- and in wealthy circles around the country -- revere Bloomberg's business acumen, commitment to public service and open-pocketed philanthropy, he is, for many people outside of those enclaves, the living, breathing symbol of the sort of nanny government they loathe. From his high profile decision to ban large sugary sodas to his push for restaurants to phase out artificial trans fats, Bloomberg has become a target of conservative vitriol. (It's absolutely worth reading Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece documenting the final days of Bloomberg's mayorship.)
Of the soda ban, Twitchy, a site founded by conservative Michelle Malkin, wrote: "A super-sized Nanny State. We’ve said it before: New York is no longer the Big Apple; it’s the Big Brother. Now with more pain in your wallet."
Now, Bloomberg's numbers nationally aren't bad. A Gallup poll in July 2013 showed 36 percent of people viewing him favorably and 35 percent seeing him unfavorably. But, Bloomberg's issue is that among the people he needs to convince -- many of whom are Republican-leaning women/moms -- he is regarded as the sort of crusader for the idea that government solves your problems, an idea with which they disagree.
There is some evidence -- outside of his quotes -- in the New York Times piece that Bloomberg is working to put forward people who might be more appealing to his target audience. His new group "Everytown for Gun Safety" will have an advisory board that includes the likes for former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. And, smartly, Bloomberg is focusing the spending of his new group not on TV ads but rather on building a grassroots infrastructure to combat that of the NRA. (The NRA really doesn't spend much money on TV ads; it's all direct mail and email appeals designed to activate its committed supporters.) That's a recognition of the fact that strong public support for more gun control is not enough; Bloomberg and gun control advocates have to close the passion gap revealed in this January 2013 Pew Research Center poll.
The problem with Bloomberg's active involvement -- beyond cutting the checks -- is that it gives conservatives a way to dismiss the effort as simply his latest attempt to regulate the lives of private citizens. (It also allows the NRA -- and other like-minded groups -- to use Bloomberg as a bogeyman in fundraising appeals to their members.)
The more groups opposed to gun control are able to cast the effort to pass measures that would tighten said laws as the efforts of a New York City billionaire bent on telling you how to live your life, the less effective the effort will be. Look at how badly Virginias reacted when Bloomberg ran stings in the Commonwealth in 2007 and when he made comments in 2012 about how so many guns used in New York City came from Virginia. People don't like others telling them how to handle their business -- especially if that person is a billionaire New York City resident who wants to regulate things like sugar in soda.
That seems obvious to most people except the guy at the center of the effort.