Bloomberg Eyes 2020, But Would Dems Warm to Him?

The new hero of the Democratic Party is Mike Bloomberg. The former three-term New York City mayor, through his Independence USA PAC, put $110 million into with the goal of flipping the chamber’s majority to the Democrats. The investment apparently paid off: 21 out of the 24 candidates he supported won, in most cases by defeating incumbent Republicans, who were outspent by at least 2-to-1.

One of the most effective parts of his strategy was a $45 million “surprise attack” in television ads over the last two weeks of the midterms in expensive media markets such as Atlanta and Miami. He also spent $5 million the weekend before Election Day airing of himself talking directly into the camera about the importance of voting for Democrats to send Donald Trump a message.

Those efforts were appreciated. Nancy Pelosi, the once and likely next House speaker, made a special visit to New York City to personally thank him and other donors for their efforts in helping Democrats retake the majority. 

What’s Mike Bloomberg’s end game here?  His high-profile role has raised speculation that he’s contemplating a 2020 presidential run. At 76, he’s announced he’ll make a decision about 2020 sometime in January or February.  It’s no secret that he wanted to run in 2016, but took a pass after realizing it would be impossible to win as an independent.

With his eye still on the Oval Office, he’s switched parties — for the third time in 18 years.  Bloomberg’s now gone from being a Democrat to a Republican to an Independent and back to a Democrat. This lack of allegiance to any party will most likely not play well with Democratic base voters, who want to know that candidates are true believers.  “Democrats will see him as using their party as his own means to an end, as he did with the Republican Party. It’s all about him,” said Joe Borelli, a Republican City Council member from Staten Island.

With the businessman’s net worth at around $45 billion, he would be able to fully fund his campaign without having to raise money. While Bloomberg has given heavily to Democrats and left-leaning groups, since 2013 he’s also donated to Republicans such as Rep. Peter King and Sens. John McCain, Susan Collins and Pat Toomey.  Complicating the situation is that he’s also donated to potential 2020 Democratic rivals such as Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. His donation history will send, at best, a mixed message to Democratic voters, and at worst, will reinforce his lack of allegiance to a party or a set of political ideas.

Bloomberg’s mayoral legacy will be his biggest asset and also his biggest liability. While he’s known as the Competent Mayor, his legacy is not easily summarized in a sound bite or remembered as exciting.  “In a city used to big-personality mayors, Bloomberg was low key,” said Eric Ulrich, a moderate Republican City Council member from Queens who has been backed by Bloomberg.  He added, “Bloomberg has successfully run the largest city in America, which qualifies him to be president.  Between his record, his resume and his money, he should not be dismissed.” 

However, it’s hard to see how Bloomberg’s moderate message will play in a primary likely to be a race to see who is the most progressive candidate. He spent much of his 12 years as mayor in a “war on the progressives.”  In 2011, he forcibly removed Occupy Wall Street protesters — whose cause has morphed into the Resist movement — from lower Manhattan.  He recently questioned the #MeToo accusations against his friend Charlie Rose, who was ousted from CBS and PBS after reports of years of sexual misconduct, by saying, “Is it true? … We have a system where you have presumption of innocence.”

As a former banker, Bloomberg’s spent years defending Wall Street and big banks and criticizing the stringent Dodd-Frank regulations, which may not go over well with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her supporters.  He pushed for education reform and charter schools, which caused the city’s teachers’ union to actively campaign for “anyone but Bloomberg.”  During his administration, homelessness increased — due to generous government benefits, he said, a belief that prompted the mayor to advocate for one-way bus tickets for the homeless to go to elsewhere.

His law-and-order record, especially stop-and-frisk policies, were despised by minorities who felt unfairly targeted. Though Bloomberg was continuing Rudy Giuliani’s approach on this front, he doubled down on it by increasing frisks from 100,000 per year to almost 700,000. While the practice did get 7,000 illegal guns off the street, it inflamed police and community relations and was part of the reason Black Lives Matter was formed.

It’s unclear if Bloomberg could even win a Democratic primary in New York City where Queens and Bronx voters recently elected avowed socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress. (In 2016, Bernie Sanders got more than 40 percent of the vote in Brooklyn.)  Over his three elections in New York, Bloomberg spent a whopping $240 million to fend off Democratic challengers. “He has so many enemies in the Democratic Party in New York City it’s hard to see him winning a primary,” said a longtime progressive Democratic consultant.

Outside of his home base, Bloomberg may be best known for his health-conscious nanny-state policies, which became fodder for late-night talk shows.  He prohibited smoking inside commercial establishments, pushed restaurants to ban trans-fat offerings, forced chain restaurants to post calorie counts and tried to eliminate the sale of sugary soda drinks larger than 16 ounces.  “His record was a he-knew-best approach. It lacked common sense, free will and personal responsibility,” said Borelli. 

“It’s hard to imagine Bloomberg campaigning at the Iowa State Fair, where there will be massive amounts of unhealthy foods with trans-fats and sugary soft drinks everywhere,” said the Democratic consultant.  “He’s never been a man of the people. This is not going to go well.”

Borelli added: “If there were no primaries, he would be a great candidate in a general election. But [Democrats] will use his record against him.  He was hated by the unions, especially the teachers’ union.  He didn’t create affordable housing or push for criminal justice reform.  He’s hated by minority voters because of stop and frisk. He doesn’t have the right record to run on in a Democratic primary.”

Adele Malpass is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She was formerly chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party and money politics reporter for CNBC.