Implied Threat: Michael Bloomberg and American Democracy

 

As you may have heard, Michael Bloomberg is considering entering the hectic (and crowded) 2016 presidential race as an independent. All this because, to quote a Times article, he’s “galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side.” To those unfamiliar with Bloomberg, he’s a New York billionaire (yes, another one) who was the mayor of New York City for three terms. A tremendously successful entrepreneur, Bloomberg’s political fortunes fared almost as well, as he balanced the city’s budgets and oversaw economic development in the wake of 9/11. All was not sunshine and roses, however, as Bloomberg’s ambitious gun control moves proved very controversial, as did the “stop-and-frisk” policy which he implemented, which critics claimed unfairly targets minorities.

First off, Michael Bloomberg will not be president of the United States. Under any circumstances. Given his general policies (fiscally conservative, socially liberal) and the fact that he’s not an idiot, Bloomberg’s only going to run in the case of two anti-establishment candidates. This means that the Republicans nominate Trump or potentially even Cruz and the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders. A Clinton, Bush, Rubio, Kasich, or Christie candidacy essentially keeps Bloomberg out of the fray, as all of these candidates are close enough to the center that Bloomberg wouldn’t be able to carve out any real base of support for himself. So assuming Trump v. Bernie, who can Bloomberg draw? Sure, there is a significant number of moderates out there, and some Democrats will never vote for a socialist. Where he is likely aiming to get even more traction among the moderate Republicans who don’t like Trump, but like the prospect of a president Sanders even less. There’s only one problem with this: to most Republicans, he’s a damn dirty liberal. He is the most outspoken gun control advocate in the country, meaning that after 8 years of gun rights advocates pretending to live in fear of Obama taking their firearms, Bloomberg is banking on a whole lot of them jumping ship and supporting someone who’s actually tough on guns. He’s also pro-abortion and pro-marriage equality (there go the evangelicals), very close to Wall Street and the established political order (so farewell anti-Trump anti-establishment Republicans), and raised taxes in order to balance the NYC budget (so fiscal conservatives might not be so keen on that either). He has extremely limited potential on the Republican side, especially in the case that after Trump wins the nomination and gets the reluctant support of the other candidates and the party brass. On top of that, he has next to no name recognition outside of political junkies and/or the Northeast, and, as Jeb! has so kindly demonstrated, all the money in the world doesn’t mean anything if you seem to be out-of-touch or weak, which Bloomberg will both by virtue of being the definition of elite and by comparison with the rather more forceful duo of Trump and Bernie. So the only group he can hope to have any sway with is the hardcore Clintonian faction within the Democratic Party, which brings me to my second point:

Bloomberg is the establishment’s buffer against a President Bernie Sanders.

While he’s SOL when it comes to the Republican side, Bloomberg represents the type of candidate that some Democrats want, and will want even more in case Hillary loses the primary to Bernie. He’s socially liberal enough to keep up appearances in changing times, arguably has a stronger gun control record than Bernie, and is business-friendly enough to make nice with the political and economic ruling class. In addition, in the case that Bernie gets nominated, his relation with the party is much more contentious than Trump’s (see especially the whole DNC voter list thing, comments exchanged between Bernie and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Bernie’s being an independent for decades, and the persistent mud-slinging that defines a losing Clinton campaign), so it’s not out of the question that the formalities of getting nominated go significantly less smoothly for him than they would for Trump, and Bloomberg might pick up a high-profile Democrat endorsement or two along the way. Now, none of that is enough for him to win the general. It is, however, enough to split the Democratic vote and give Bernie a much harder time against Trump than he would otherwise. Personally, I don’t think this necessarily hands the election to Trump, but there’s no doubt that the election is an uphill battle rather than a landslide in case Bloomberg participates. And that’s what’s so frustrating about this whole thing.

It’s no great secret that Bernie is a threat to the established order of things. Here’s a self-described socialist who calls the corruption of campaign finance what it is, who promises to end the greed of Wall Street, who is immune to the charms of large donors and lobbyists, and who will, by general election time, have effectively cockblocked the coronation of a great American political dynasty. If that isn’t a revolution in American politics, I’m not sure what is. And so, the powers that be have every interest in stopping him from succeeding. Calamitous as a Trump presidency would be, it would actually be relatively inconsequential to the very wealthy and the very powerful. He has no plans to raise taxes on the rich or to change anything really fundamental about the way business is done in America. In fact, the inevitable crises, be they diplomatic, internal, or economic, that he will inevitably bring on as president actually serve to promote a pretty establishment “this is why we can’t have nice things” argument, as Americans will have looked outside the system for answers and found only right-wing extremism and toupees, furthering the message that outsiders bring only chaos, so you should vote for insiders. So they’d much rather a Trump presidency to a Sanders one, and that’s what Bloomberg is here for. I guess it’s a measure of praise for Bernie that he’s now a big enough threat to warrant this amount of consternation from the top. They’ve gotten desperate enough, with the possibility of Clinton losing out, that they will do anything, including electing Atlantic City’s answer to Adolf Hitler, just to hold on to their power and influence. Democracy working out the way it’s supposed to sure can be a real pain in the ass.

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