After pouring some $500 million of his own fortune into his presidential campaign, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally joined his Democratic rivals on the debate stage Wednesday night. He turned in a remarkably despicable performance in which he unapologetically refused to address allegations of harassment and offered only tepid explanations for the stop-and-frisk policy that repeatedly violated the civil rights and basic humanity of hundreds of thousands of innocent black and brown New Yorkers.
For all the problems the Democratic field has, Bloomberg’s emergence on the debate stage was the first time it seemed possible the party could actually nominate someone even more odious than Donald Trump. Bloomberg’s remarks on race, women, LGBTQ issues, and more are often as loathsome as Trump’s and, in some cases, are even worse.
With virtually every candidate, moderator, and audience member against him, Bloomberg defended the nondisclosure agreements he’s signed with women who have accused him of inappropriate behavior throughout his professional and political life. Essentially, these agreements represent payoffs for women to keep quiet. Bloomberg’s defense, that “None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” drew loud groans.
In 2013, Bloomberg openly wished stop-and-frisk could be even more racist, saying, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” In 2015, Bloomberg said 95 percent of murderers were “Male, minorities, 16 to 25… You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops.” As recently as 2019 Bloomberg argued that trans issues boiled down to “some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter.”
Mayor Bloomberg governed his city as a far-right authoritarian. He expanded stop-and-frisk to impose a virtual apartheid system on black and brown communities. During Bloomberg’s tenure, millions of New Yorkers were harassed by police. Only around 10 percent of them were white, and around 90 percent of all people stopped had committed no crime. Bloomberg also ran a massive, warrantless surveillance campaign against New York Muslims that went beyond even the 2016 proposals of openly Islamophobic Republican candidates like Trump.
Trump has no qualms whatsoever about running to an opponent’s left if there’s an opportunity to do so. In 2016, he ran to Hillary Clinton’s left on trade, foreign policy, and criminal justice. The opportunities to run to Bloomberg’s left are even greater.
A longtime Republican, Bloomberg offers virtually nothing to excite policy-conscious progressives. In fact, Bloomberg’s real policy disagreements are not with Trump. They are both white billionaires who belong to the same elite boys’ clubs, spoke highly of one another in public, and have chummed it up on the golf course. Trump as president may offend Bloomberg, but he doesn’t seriously threaten his interests.
The progressive wing of the Democratic Party, led by frontrunner Bernie Sanders, threatens Bloomberg’s interests. Sanders has declared that billionaires should not exist and called Bloomberg’s wealth “grotesque and immoral.” Indeed, Bloomberg may well spend upwards of a billion dollars on his campaign. That money could be used to fight homelessness in California. It could send 12,000 kids to public college. Instead, Bloomberg is spending it to thwart Sanders and save himself money in the long run by making sure Sanders doesn’t get elected and raise his taxes.
Unfortunately, Bloomberg also seems to be the man around whom so-called centrist Democrats want to coalesce. His poll numbers are rising while Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg are quickly gaffing and bickering themselves into irrelevance. Joe Biden has slipped away from serious contention fast. Whatever bad publicity Bloomberg generates for himself on the debate stage or in candid interviews can be corrected with another $100 million of advertising – a tiny pittance of his nearly incomprehensible $60 billion fortune.
The millions of people who promised to vote for any Democrat will be faced with a real ethical dilemma if Bloomberg is the nominee. Whether he is preferable to Trump is not immediately obvious. Trump’s worst crimes have arguably been his civil rights abuses, rampant corruption, and erosion of democracy. Bloomberg draws no meaningful distinction there. On matters like foreign policy and trade, the more establishment-friendly Bloomberg may even be worse. Only on environmental issues does Bloomberg clearly best the climate change-denying Trump.
If Bloomberg secures the nomination, it will be by far the greatest indictment of the Democratic Party’s corruption to date. The party has bent over backward to accommodate Bloomberg, eager to reward his donations and make use of his limitless resources. As a candidate, Trump claimed to know his opponents were corrupt, because he himself had bribed them. Bloomberg is attempting to purchase the entire party. If he’s successful, it will all but formalize the Democratic Party’s abandonment of working-class interests and likely guarantee a second Trump term.