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Michael Bloomberg says he might run as a Democrat. But why?

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor, has been chatting to the New York Times about...

Posted: Sep 18, 2018 7:34 AM
Updated: Sep 18, 2018 7:34 AM

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor, has been chatting to the New York Times about a run for president in 2020.

In a report out Monday, Bloomberg tossed over the hows and whys, figuring a GOP primary wouldn't be his route of choice. "I'm just way away," he said, "from where the Republican Party is today."

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But, he added: "That's not to say I'm with the Democratic Party on everything."

OK. So then what?

An independent run is off the table, he told the Times. So it's the Dems or bust. But the Democratic Party as Bloomberg seems to understand it, or wants to view it, is very much changed since his last political dance.

The optimistic take, in the minds — and press releases — of party leaders, is that its appeal is broadening and, hey, the more contestants the better. And there may be something to the idea, because no one really knows anything, of fighting a very loud, in-your-face billionaire president with an extremely calculating billionaire former mayor. (A similar logic keeps former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's name in the news.)

But the dimmer assessment suggests the party will, once the pre-midterm detente expires, descend into a generational round of internal warfare among centrists, liberal moderates and the new breed of progressive insurgents.

Which brings us to Bloomberg's fundamental problem. His only natural home is with the centrists, whose standing with the Democratic base is very much in decline. If anything, his candidacy would probably have the opposite of its desired effect and fire up the left. Of course, no one is going to step up and deliver him these home truths. At least not right now. And certainly no one from the party, probably ever, especially given his recent pledge to spend $80 million in support of Democratic efforts to retake Congress in the fall.

Regardless, Bloomberg is a billionaire. In the end, he needs only to convince himself that there is a viable path.

No other potential Democratic candidate could, as Bloomberg did in the Times, question some of the allegations that fueled the #MeToo movement and not be immediately written off.

"The stuff I read about is disgraceful," Bloomberg said, before adding: "I don't know how true all of it is."

He then refused, according to the report, to say whether he believed the charges against Charlie Rose, who was fired from CBS and had his PBS show canceled after being hit with a long series of credible accusations.

To make things worse, at least in purely political terms, his remarks — spoken on Friday — were published on Monday, a day after Christine Blasey Ford came forward publicly with sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Bloomberg, who was already a nonstarter with many progressive racial justice activists, further undermined his standing on a few more core issues during the Times interview.

He defended "stop-and-frisk" police tactics and suggested the federal court ruling that ended the practice — saying it was unconstitutional — wouldn't have survived an appeal.

His successor, current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, didn't pursue one and in announcing a decision to implement reforms, said he believed "stop-and-frisk" had "unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men."

Bloomberg's biggest political stage since leaving office in 2013 came during the last presidential campaign, when he spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. His speech poked at Donald Trump's business acumen but, read back a couple years later (or as he gave it, many on the left would argue), it's a good source for understanding progressive distaste for his politics.

He called out Republicans over anti-immigrant rhetoric and their opposition to gun control and climate change measures. But he also took a shot at the partisans in the room -- and those protesting outside it.

"Democrats wrongly blame the private sector for our problems," Bloomberg said, "and they stand in the way of action on education reform and deficit reduction."

A decade after the financial crisis and with so many voters still bobbing in its wake, it's hard to believe the next Democratic presidential nominee will be quite so cozy with business interests, let alone be one of them.

Education reform in the mold of what Bloomberg pursued during his dozen years running New York City, notably his support for charter school and other policies that riled teachers unions, are also unlikely to curry much popular support with liberal voters in the next few years.

Same for his deficit concerns, which could be a major tripping point with a party that, for all its divisions, is almost uniformly behind some kind of new health care expansion, whether it's boosting Obamacare with a public option or, pushing further left, implementing "Medicare for all." As many Democrats now reason, deficit hawk politics are less about responsible governance than a smoke screen employed by tax cut-happy Republicans to blunt and stigmatize public spending.

And then there is the age question.

Ask a Democrat about two of the early 2020 favorites, 77-year-old Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who will turn 76 in November, and it's almost certain to come up as a concern. Bloomberg is 76.

But even as it pertains to what he can control, like his own platform, there is nothing in these new comments to suggest much evolution, or a willingness to adopt more progressive positions. Whether Bloomberg is willing to budge will be, as much as anything else, the best indication of whether his latest round of public musings are worth any continued attention.

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