“I’ve always believed that defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it. After yesterday’s vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden,” Bloomberg said in a statement.Bloomberg will put his resources “in the broadest way possible behind Joe Biden’s candidacy,” Tim O’Brien, a senior adviser to the Bloomberg campaign, said Wednesday. “We have long-term leases and long-term contracts with the team and the intention was always to put this big machine we have built behind whoever the nominee is.”
It was an extremely pragmatic thing to do. Bloomberg could have stuck around for a few more weeks, but for what? He doesn’t have a set of beliefs he’s trying to get the Democratic Party to adopt, nor does he have loyal supporters whom he wants to give the opportunity to cast their ballots for him. So it was the only decision that made sense.
Bloomberg’s quick exit is the latest sign of what a powerful pull pragmatism is exerting on this race. There’s nothing wrong with being pragmatic, of course, especially when you’re faced with as urgent a need as getting rid of President Trump.
The difficulty comes when it’s unclear exactly what the truly pragmatic thing to do is. And if that’s all you think about, you may find yourself going rapidly down a road that looks pragmatic but is actually fraught with risk.
But pragmatism is certainly reigning. You saw it in the swiftness with which a group of candidates — Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — exited the race. Most presidential campaigns keep going well past the point where their chances have dimmed to a glimmer; the candidate and their supporters have invested so much time and emotion that it’s hard to let go. Not this time.
You saw it in the stampede of public officials rushing to endorse Biden as soon as he won the South Carolina primary.
And more than anything else, you saw it in the way voters rushed to choose Biden. It even happened in states he never considered campaigning in, like Minnesota and Massachusetts, both of which he won.
There is little or no evidence, anecdotally or in data, that Biden’s momentum is built on a groundswell of passionate enthusiasm for the former vice president. Even before last week, the heart of Biden’s argument was a pragmatic one. I’m the electable candidate, he said, and many of the voters who supported him said that though they might have liked someone else better, their only concern was beating Trump, and Biden seems like the best one to do it.
There’s a lot going on in that “seems,” however. As I argued repeatedly (to no avail), making your primary choice on electability is a fool’s errand, because you’re almost certainly wrong about what makes someone electable; again and again in recent history, we’ve seen electable candidates like Mitt Romney or John F. Kerry lose, and supposedly unelectable candidates like Barack Obama or Donald Trump win.
Trying to figure out who other people will like inevitably leads you to gravitate toward candidates that talking heads in the media tell you other people will like, and their thinking is dominated by conservative, establishment ideas (e.g. that what you need is a moderate older white man).
To be clear, that doesn’t mean Biden can’t or won’t win, should he be the nominee. He can and he might. It’s not that encouraging, however, that he has fallen into such a strong position despite his campaign being characterized by a weak organization, mediocre fundraising and a candidate whose performance on the trail has been erratic at best.
So it wasn’t Biden’s shrewd strategy or blinding charisma that put him where he is today. It was a collective decision on the part of voters to do what they decided was the pragmatic thing — especially black voters, who tend to be the most pragmatic of all.
As for Bloomberg, you might say blowing half a billion dollars on a vanity presidential campaign is deeply impractical. Perhaps, but since that’s less than 1 percent of his net worth, it’s not as though he’s going to have to cut back on dinners out as a result. And now that he’s not running for his own sake, he can do what he promised and pour hundreds of millions more into defeating Trump, without having to try to convince people to think well of him in the process.
There is, of course, a danger in all this pragmatism: the danger that Democrats could wind up with a nominee and a general election campaign that lacks passion. Passion drives organizing, it produces money, and it gets people to the polls. So if they can’t get passion from their feelings about their own nominee, they’ll need to get it from their incandescent hatred of Trump.
Which might be enough.