Bloomberg’s Bad Timing

Michael Bloomberg speaks at his Super Tuesday night rally in West Palm Beach, Fla., March 3, 2020. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

He found a path to the nomination, but it was already too late

Almost lost in the intense coverage and analysis of the Super Tuesday results, and the remarkable relaunch of Joe Biden as an ark of moderation for the traditional liberal Democrats, is the subtle initiative taken by Michael Bloomberg in his town-hall meeting hosted by Fox News on Monday night. It was by far the most impressive political appearance Bloomberg has made since he announced his campaign for the nomination, at least of those that received national coverage. More important, he finally, and too late, struck upon a possible route to victory in Milwaukee, and even in November. He was affable and informed, did not indicate that he thought all America was obsessed by or even particularly interested in the foibles of New York City, and had many occasions to demonstrate his knowledge of government administration with illustrative experiences as New York’s mayor. He was amused by what he called “Donald’s schtick” when invited to comment on the president’s disparagements of him. But he unveiled a new lane for the Democrats — when questioned about his attitude to various administration policies and to its strong economic performance, he responded that there were many Trump policies he agreed with, but he did not agree with the way Trump executed the role of president.

What he was effectively saying was that with Bloomberg, you could have what you like in Trump’s record, but not have the full burden of the president’s uproarious and disruptive personality. He specifically promised not to tweet. This may seem like a trite and unpromising formula, and since he has withdrawn from the race, it is an academic matter anyway. The other Democrats, Biden no more than Sanders, have not faced up to the indisputable accomplishments that are the basis of Trump’s reelection campaign. The country is enjoying full employment and the lowest range of income-earners is advancing more quickly in relative terms than the highest, which is the beginning of a reduction in the sinister aspects of the income gap. Sanders and Biden are still hammering the ancient Democratic piñata that Trump’s tax-cuts were for the benefit of the billionaires, (Sanders can’t complain anymore about the millionaires because he is one of them.) The administration’s tax changes reduced the taxes of 83 percent of taxpayers. Illegal immigration has been reduced by 80 percent, relieving downward pressure on the rewards of relatively unskilled labor.

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Bloomberg moved too late to change his pitch from the lofty condescending dismissal of the president that he first revealed at his national coming out as a Democrat at their 2016 convention. And in his first two debates, Bloomberg reflexively referred to Trump as “a disaster,” the password for any Democratic political exchange, and said that his reason for running was to evict Trump — again, the catchment for all Democrats, most of whom can’t explain their objections to the president in any terms except what they find to be his undignified personal mannerisms and supposedly deficient ethics. Bloomberg, on the eve of Super Tuesday, was effectively standing on a Republican platform but proposing to replace the Republican president; he was really running as an independent when it was too late for anyone but the orthodox standard-bearers of both parties. Bloomberg has not gone to the barricades on immigration, and although he claimed to have a sanctuary city, he hadn’t stressed that and might have been able to get clear of Trump’s attacks on the issue by finessing it and agreeing with the construction of a genuine southern border, as long as it was humanely operated, and with a few other manifestations of comparative gentleness. He had no objection to the tax structure but would support higher taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit. (It would not make much difference to the deficit. but election promises are rarely very rigorously analyzed; it’s all optics and atmospherics.) He repeated the same rather hackneyed formula as he left the race on Wednesday.

On the Middle East, Bloomberg embraced the two-state solution, which can certainly be implied as supporting much of the Trump plan, though he was less tolerant of recent Israeli settlements. On Afghanistan, he agreed with Trump’s cease-fire arrangement but was a bit skeptical. Apart from climate matters, where Bloomberg has gulped down the alarmist Kool-Aid by the keg, his answer to almost everything is an implicit agreement with the administration, but a little more humane, more sympathetic, more gradual, more equitable on taxes, but nothing to frighten the middle class; by all means a Western Alliance in which the allies pull their weight, but all with a more comradely tenor and tone. Though he did not specifically say this, he was offering Trump policies without the rough edges, the more gentlemanly and dignified of the New York billionaires, and the one without any ethical baggage. The questions from the moderators of the Fox occasion and those present did not get too far into the vagaries of Trump’s career, but Bloomberg was able to say that if he was elected, he would sell his business and give almost all the proceeds to his foundation, and he won applause for his references to the conflicts of interest Trump faced and his reticence about showing his tax returns. Bloomberg said that he pays the full tax rate, uses what he needs to pay his bills, and gives the balance to his foundation. These were legitimate and advantageous distinctions to make.

While normally this kind of approach is wide open to ridicule by the other side, and Trump is formidable at the dismissal of adversaries (and not only over spurious questions of personal appearance and the rest of his “schtick”), the whole concept of implicitly conceding Trump’s strong points but promising to improve them, and devoting the main argument to substituting a more gentlemanly and serious personality for the rambunctious and sometimes outrageous personality of the incumbent, has a certain allure. And Michael Bloomberg, as builder of a splendid company, a great philanthropic benefactor, and a three-term, generally well-regarded mayor of the nation’s largest city, could make that argument much more successfully than Sanders and Biden. They are still trying to misrepresent and dispute Trump’s achievements and dish out the same old liberal pap (Biden), or invite the blind terror of the sensible majority with Marxist nonsense (Sanders).

It is all too late. The Democratic race evolved quickly from a multi-candidate scrum to a three-man race, and it is now a two-man race, but with Bloomberg endorsing Biden, it is really a one-man race, and Biden has almost as little chance of defeating Trump as Sanders had. But instead of Trump taking 65 percent of the vote, as he would have done against Sanders, he may be held to between 55 and 60 percent against the less delirious and fanatical Biden. The Democratic elders flexed their muscles impressively and assisted Joe Biden in one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus. Bloomberg should not be embarrassed at a slim return on an immense investment ($600 million or more); he presumably extracted the State Department as the price of his withdrawal, the same post he was expecting from Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, had either of them been elected. And as his means are practically unlimited, the money he has spent in a losing cause is not relevant. He didn’t make a bad showing, considering his late entry (just three months ago).

The only fly in the Democratic ointment is that in closing ranks to keep their party out of Marxist hands, they have excluded the only one of the candidates who had any chance of defeating Donald Trump, and the only one who had devised a strategy that could conceivably do that. Biden will preserve the party and lose honorably, where Sanders would lead it to virtual temporary extinction. Bloomberg is not only the only Democratic survivor who had even a small chance to win, he is the only one who would be a competent president. As it is, Bloomberg will be to the position of secretary of state what Henry Clay and William Jennings Bryan were to the presidency: they tried three times unsuccessfully (but Clay and Bryan were both secretaries of state). Bloomberg might have got the job he coveted if he hadn’t attacked Trump in the first place.

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