Tonight, Michael Bloomberg is upping his ad game to make a three minute primetime announcement regarding the coronavirus on two major networks. Such an address is likely designed to show that Bloomberg has the gravitas and experience to “manage” the presidency. Thus far Bloomberg has campaigned with the excitement of an old hedge fund manager without DJ Jazzy Jeff. Such a campaign strategy works well when the Democrats get caught in the health care plan cul-de-sac of debates. At this point the cul-de-sac feels more like an eddy that the Democratic rafters want to get stuck in rather than ride the rapids of real issues like climate change and foreign policy. From now on, debate moderators should frame health care questions like HR frames open enrollment: “Candidates, unless anything has changed, you do not need to update your preferences.” But, like Mike in accounting, they’ll all continue to send in information that clearly we already have.
Yes, the Bloomberg candidacy has the passion and excitement of Michael Scott’s unpublished Somehow I Manage with the money of Ross Perot. And, like Ross Perot, Bloomberg is blanketing the airwaves with a kind of message that is intended to convince voters from both sides that he’s their guy. The major difference, of course, is that Perot decided to start a “Party” rather than win the nomination from either the Republicans or Democrats. Bloomberg, along with Sanders, at least understand that their principled independence from the party machinery should only matter when it is self-serving. (Yes, I know what I did there, I put Sanders and Bloomberg in the same category at my own personal risk. I can assume, that we’re all big enough that they share the fact that they are both Independents who support the Democratic party when it is convenient for them.)
Ross Perot spent $62.5 million on his 1992 campaign (about $114 million in current dollars) which significantly less than Bloomberg, but it is kind of hard to compare given that these were the salad days of post-McGovern-Fraser and pre-Citizens United when overtly buying a race by, say, renting your campaign headquarters from the daughter of a prominent Democrat or simply buying food for anyone who will show up to your rallies was less common. Those of us who are old enough remember the half hour chunks of time Perot purchased to essentially show us powerpoints (with pie charts – clearly this pre-data visualization) before powerpoint existed designed to give him an air of authority on the issue of the time which was an economic downturn – akin to, say, paying for the public to hear a faux address regarding a pandemic. Somehow Bloomberg will make that boring.
Of course, Perot was running as an independent, but, it is hard to imagine that Bloomberg will drop upwards of $1billion on a race and then just walk away. There is no reason to believe that he won’t just jump ship having used the chaos of the 2020 Democratic primary as a way to amplify his supercharged campaign to run as an independent. Filling deadlines for independents occur between June and August, with some states earlier. (North Carolina’s deadline is March 3; Texas is May 11 – if he’s going to file, it would likely be then). He could, of course, just buy his way into an established third party – and, with enough money, he might actually be able to mount a write in campaign.
Not that he would win in any of these cases, but he would likely assist in a Trump victory. The common wisdom is that Perot helped Clinton, but, political scientists have found otherwise. Regardless, Bloomberg is, as we have said many times, just terrible – or maybe not. If you like Sanders, he’s actually the very embodiment of what is wrong in politics and his presence gives the Vermont Senator someone to actually lambast. Obviously Bloomberg has been good for Warren – at least in the short term. And, Bloomberg is good for Biden on two counts: a) he spooks other progressives (rather than liberals; I refuse to call any person in the race a centrist because that is empirically not true) from running against his billions and b) Bloomberg makes Biden look downright liberal. When Bloomberg was a Republican, Biden was a Democrat and you can see the old Republican/Democrat divide in their presence on stage. You can also just see a lot of old.
And, I must acknowledge that Bloomberg is taller than Perot. By two inches.
Politics is a game of inches.