Snark aside, Bloomberg 2020 is a bad idea. Polls suggest that Democrats neither want nor need a Bloomberg candidacy, and his strategy seems seriously flawed. Democratic donors have been sounding the alarm about their front-runners, but even if they’re right, Democrats already have better options than Bloomberg in the race.
Real-life, non-million-dollar-donor Democrats are happy with the candidates they already have. In July, Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of Democrats had a “good” or “excellent” impression of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination, 25 percent said their sense was that the field was fair, and only 5 percent had a “poor” impression.
By historical standards, those are excellent numbers. In 2015, only 51 percent had an unambiguously positive impression of the field, and in 2003 just 44 percent did. Democrats are about as happy with the field as they were in 2007, when Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were leading the Democratic primary and the party was on its way to a landslide victory. According to a Economist/YouGov poll, only 22 percent of registered Democrats who plan to vote in primaries wished they had more choices, and Pew found that 63 percent of Democrats are excited about several of the party’s candidates.
Bloomberg occasionally gets a decent Democratic primary poll, but most surveys that include him have shown his support somewhere between zero and 2 percent. That number could go up if he runs a strong campaign and finds a way to differentiate himself from other candidates, but polling shows that there isn’t some great outstanding hunger for a Bloomberg run.
And Bloomberg seems to be planning to cut himself off at the knees. Bloomberg is entering the race late, when his competitors have already built infrastructure in the early states. Some have suggested that Bloomberg could skip the first four primary states and spend immense amounts of money competing in Super Tuesday states instead. But, as fellow former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani learned to his dismay in 2008, candidates who skip the early states can lose momentum quickly when their competitors start to notch wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Moreover, Bloomberg has said he won’t raise funds, which would disqualify him from Democratic debates. If a candidate isn’t debating or competing in early states, they’re probably just pushing their campaign budget into a shredder.
Bloomberg does have some advantages. Obviously he won’t have any money problems, and the moderate-liberal lane is less crowded than the progressive track. Bloomberg has real political experience as the mayor of New York and would come into the race more battle-tested and ready than fellow billionaires Tom Steyer or Howard Schultz. Bloomberg will almost certainly claim that his ability to win Trump-voting Staten Island during the era when he was flipping between being a Republican and Republican-endorsed independent proves that he’s the electable everyman. If Biden falters, Bloomberg might be able to pick up some of his voters and start to build a base.
But Bloomberg has real disadvantages, too. He’s 77 years old, and polls show that voters have reservations about nominating candidates over age 70. He’s a white man trying to represent an increasingly diverse party. As my colleague Philip Bump noted, ha has supported stop-and-frisk policies, which may be a non-starter with African Americans and liberal voters of other races. Old sexual misconduct allegations may resurface during his run. Most candidates who look perfect on paper disappoint, and Bloomberg doesn’t look that great on paper.
Wealthy Democrats who worry that Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg might lose aren’t crazy to look elsewhere. Voters are wary of older candidates. Buttigieg doesn’t have much experience. And Sanders and Warren may be too far left for some voters Democrats want to target. Bloomberg isn’t 100 percent certain to lose — primaries are chaotic, and sometimes flawed long shots surprise everyone.
But Democrats already have better options than the former mayor: Cory Booker has the charisma. Amy Klobuchar has a proven record of winning in the Midwest. And Kamala D. Harris represents where the Democratic Party is heading. Bloomberg could do more for his party, and for his own legacy, by investing in one of them rather than treating himself to a vanity run for president.