It would be a mistake to write off Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy because he is a billionaire. There are billionaires, and then there are billionaires. For one thing, Bloomberg’s wealth checks out (Forbes has him at $47.2 billion, more than four times President Trump’s most inflated claim.) Unlike Trump, Bloomberg isn’t a know-nothing, has actually run something well, has popular positions on climate change and on guns, and doesn’t have a slew of obvious, serious personality flaws.
Bloomberg, it seems, is getting serious about running. According to Politico, “Michael Bloomberg made his second visit to New Hampshire Tuesday, using the opportunity to step up his criticisms of President Donald Trump. . . . Bloomberg also trashed fellow billionaire Howard Schultz for considering an independent presidential bid, and dismissed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax as ‘probably unconstitutional.’” (I have no idea where he got the “unconstitutional” part, even if one thinks it unwise, as I do.)
In any event, he is in the right states and saying the right kind of things for a prospective presidential candidate. (“A former New York mayor, media mogul and philanthropist, Bloomberg launched his speech by criticizing Trump not over climate change, at least not initially, but for the just-ended government shutdown sparked by the president’s demands for border wall funding.”)
Democrats may not ultimately want Bloomberg (who knows at this stage?), but they could use him in the primary about now. Democratic candidates and voters alike need to hear critiques of their most progressive candidates — if not to necessarily dissuade them from supporting them, then to push them to think hard about how to defend these policies when the audience in not entirely composed of progressives.
Bloomberg isn’t a fan of Medicare-for-all or tax gimmicks like hiking the top marginal tax rate or “free tuition.” He says these things are not “practical” and that they are unaffordable. He should explain why, and those proposing these things should be pressed to defend themselves. That is the serious policy debate the party and the country needs.
Bloomberg serves another purpose as well: He shows you don’t have to be a mushy, middle-of-the-roader to be a “moderate.” He has strong opinions on guns, immigration and the environment. He’ll have to show he is equally passionate for alternatives to Medicare-for-all, free college tuition and Warren’s tax schemes.
It is not a foregone conclusion that Democrats will pick the most progressive candidate in the field. Remember, again and again in the primaries, Democratic voters in 2018 chose moderates over Sen. Bernie Sanders-endorsed candidates. Those candidates were progressive enough, and went on to win all over the country. The day after the midterms, Jim Kessler and Lanae Erickson of the center-left Third Way argued:
The moderate New Democratic caucus in the U.S. House endorsed 37 candidates in primary races, and 32 earned the nomination — an 86 percent win rate. By contrast, Our Revolution, the grass-roots organization founded and run by Bernie Sanders’s backers, had a win rate under 40 percent in the primaries. Once the general election rolled around, 23 New Democrat-backed candidates flipped House seats to help gain the majority, while not a single Our Revolution-endorsed candidate captured a red seat. Zero.
In short, even in Democratic primary races, moderates can win with an appealing message, a sharp critique of Trump and an effective communicator (e.g. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer).
Right now, the progressive lane in the primary is filling up (e.g. Warren, Sen. Kamala D. Harris, Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii). That leaves some running room (at least until former vice president Joe Biden or a moderate governor enters) for someone in the mold of those successful moderate midterm victors. Whether it is Bloomberg or someone else, Democrats should hear from that quadrant of the party. They are going to have to win a whole lot of independent moderates and ex-Republican moderates in the general election to dislodge Trump.