Michael Bloomberg is many things; one of history’s great inept media barons, a passable New York City mayor (if you were white), a decent boss (if you were a man), and richer than anyone should ever be. And now, he’s can add most depressing Presidential candidates in history to his list of achievements.
Yes, friends, after weeks of trailballooning, Bloomberg officially announced his campaign for President. We’ve been living in a “Will Michael Bloomberg Run for President?” news cycle for a few weeks now, which gives us a window into the Bloomberg strategy: his team believes the Democratic primary is unsettled, that Biden running weaker than expected in the moderate lane, that Warren and Sanders cannot beat Trump, and that there is room for a pragmatic centrist to win.
That’s all sensical centrist political analysis—it’s pretty much what got Deval Patrick to enter the race last week—but what’s really depressing about the whole Bloomberg affair is how his campaign intends to win. Because he’s entering so late, Bloomberg is planning an unorthodox campaign strategy, one predicated almost entirely on using his personal wealth—shunning the kind of grassroots movement building campaigns traditionally rely on—and suffocating his opponents with his immeasurable resources. First, Bloomberg will be funding his campaign using only his own money, with no donations from voters. Self-funding means that unless the DNC fundamentally changes its qualifications, Bloomberg will not be in any televised debates. In another break from established norms, Bloomberg’s aides have hinted that the billionaire will skip both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, the first battles in the primary calendar and a traditional breakout moment for competitive candidates. Party officials in Iowa and New Hampshire have already criticized the decision, yet Bloomberg presses on; seemingly uninterested in the retail politics required to compete in those states and aware that he’s unlikely to win after entering so late. Instead, Bloomberg plans to build momentum in the Super Tuesday states through shock-and-awe amounts of television and digital advertising. He is intending to spend more money on these ad buys than many campaigns have raised overall.
It bears repeating how antithetical to modern campaign this strategy would be to the organization and economics of modern primaries. Most campaigns build momentum through grassroots campaigning, use outside donations to pay for advertising, try to break out in Iowa or New Hampshire or the debates, and build up to be in a strong position by Super Tuesday. Bloomberg is essentially saying that since he has enough money independently, these expectations shouldn’t apply to him.
Even detached from Bloomberg’s questionable public history and flaccid centrism, this is a profoundly cynical campaign strategy. Bloomberg is banking on his personal wealth to carry him to victory, quite literally buying his way into a fighting chance for the nomination. That he is approaching the campaign this way without an ounce of self-awareness speaks deeply to his character.