Michael Bloomberg is not reading the room.
In a Democratic primary featuring not one but two left-wing frontrunners in Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, each of whom has (in their own way) made challenging corporate power and inequality their rallying cry, the billionaire technocrat is wondering: Why not me?
Or at least that's the only conclusion from a New York Times report late Thursday detailing the former mayor of New York's apparent plans to get himself on the ballot in Alabama's Democratic presidential primary, which has an early filing deadline:
Mr. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman, has been privately weighing a bid for the White House for weeks and has not yet made a final decision on whether to run, an adviser said. But in the first sign that he is seriously moving toward a campaign, Mr. Bloomberg has dispatched staffers to Alabama to gather signatures to qualify for the primary there. Though Alabama does not hold an early primary, it has a Friday deadline for candidates to formally enter the race.
According to the Times, Joe Biden's overwhelming popularity caused Bloomberg to opt out of the race months ago. But since then, the former vice president's flagging fundraising and less-than-stellar poll numbers have made the prospect of some kind of socialist or not-socialist-but-annoying-to-bankers candidate winning too terrifying for the ex-mayor to stay on the sidelines.
It should go without saying that Bloomberg has no more chance of winning the nomination that his fellow billionaires Tom Steyer and Howard Schultz, who are either running or have publicly mused about running. The former mayor's budding campaign is a tantrum against the populist politics of Warren and Sanders, a gift to the high-priced consultants who will happily collect paychecks from his campaign, and a bit of cosplaying silliness—Bloomberg wants to pretend to be a contender, speeches and ads and all. (This is an impulse many rich men have; Steve Forbes spent $69 million in 1996 and 2000 in quixotic presidential runs.)
But as Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute and author of Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy, wrote me after news of Bloomberg's move broke Thursday, "America isn't crying out for a billionaire to save us."
Bloomberg will presumably call for serious action on pet causes like climate change, gun control, and banning e-cigarettes, a new favorite he's been throwing cash at lately (to the consternation of harm-reduction advocates). But Democratic voters who might share his views and want someone moderate can choose between Biden, Pete Buttigieg, or even Amy Klobuchar. There's little reason for them to support a rich guy whose political career was marked mostly by his stubborn (ongoing) defense of racist stop and frisk policing and kicking Occupy Wall Street out of Zuccotti Park. He'll be even less popular if his opponents mention his documented history of sexist behavior, not to mention his incoherent ambivalence about the MeToo movement.
Bloomberg is a candidate from nowhere, for no one, with nothing to say. But he has the money to make sure everyone pays attention to him.
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