Over the weekend, Michael Bloomberg became the 28th person to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 — and unless a political miracle happens, he will end up on the political sidelines next year with 27 others.
If you were to cook up in a lab a presidential candidate less likely to win over a majority of the American electorate, he would look a lot like Bloomberg.
First of all, Democratic voters aren’t all that crazy about him. An average of recent national polls has him at a 37 percent favorability rating and 31 percent negative rating. According to G. Elliott Morris, a data journalist at The Economist, he is the second most unpopular politician in America — behind Rudy Giuliani, personal lawyer for President Trump, and ahead only of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and congressional Republicans.
Michael Bloomberg is the second-most unpopular figure in American politics today. (Yes, his ratings are even worse than Rudy Giuliani's.) Only Mitch McConnell and Congressional Republicans poll lower. From the last month of polling from @TheEconomist and YouGov: pic.twitter.com/0wNGd1GaTl— G. Elliott Morris (@gelliottmorris) November 25, 2019
Bloomberg’s unpopularity is due in part to the fact that he is unique in holding policy positions that are anathema to both political parties. For Republicans, his pro-gun-control, pro-immigration, pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage, pro-fighting climate change, and anti-Trump stances are nonstarters.
For Democrats, particularly minority voters, his past support for stop-and-frisk policies as mayor of New York make him anunappealing choice. That Bloomberg recently delivered a speech in Brooklyn decrying his once-fervent evangelism on behalf of stop-and-frisk probably had the opposite intended effect — demonstrating the opportunism of a politician who endorsed George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican convention.
His negative views on higher taxes for the rich, his reflexive support for Wall Street, his public opposition to Medicare for All, his doubts on some of the men caught up in the #MeToo movement, will make him odious to the left. So he’ll be starting off the race having alienated two significant wings of the party whose nomination he is seeking. And as Mayor Pete Buttigieg is learning, if you can’t win over black voters, you’re not going to win the Democratic nomination for president.
Not surprisingly, Bloomberg will be pinning his hopes on moderate white voters, but how he will wrestle those away from former vice president Joe Biden is far from clear — after all, a good part of the reason for Biden’s success is his backing from black voters and Democratic party loyalists. Why they would be convinced to abandon ship and join the USS Bloomberg is far from clear — particularly when there already are plenty of moderate alternative candidates in the Democratic field.
Then there’s Bloomberg’s strategy for winning the nomination, which makes even less sense. Since he is entering the race so late, he’s skipping the first four primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada). Suffice it to say, this has never worked for a presidential candidate before, and it’s hard to see why it would work now. If the early states have a bunch of different winners and no clear front-runner, it’s possible that voters will turn to another candidate — though that’s never happened. But why would it be Bloomberg, who is off-putting to so many of the party’s key constituencies? In addition, because Bloomberg is spending his own money, he won’t be seeking donations, which means he won’t qualify for the Democratic debates — even if the tens of millions he spends on advertising boosts his numbers into the low single digits.
Speaking of all that money, that Bloomberg has already spent around $30 million on ads. At the end of the cycle, we could be looking at hundreds of millions of dollars being spent. Contrary to popular opinion, such expenditures rarely translate into votes. Granted, it helped Bloomberg in New York City, but without an effective ground game, committed volunteers, and a platform — other than 30-second ads — with which to reach voters, there’s little reason to believe he is going to take the Democratic Party by storm.
In fact, I struggle to come up with any coherent explanation as to why Bloomberg is running — other than ego and/or boredom. There’s no group of Democratic voters crying out for him to run — other than altruistic-minded billionaires. There’s no issue that he has made the centerpiece of his campaign other than, perhaps, his ability to beat Trump, which is at best a dubious notion. There’s no rationale for his candidacy, other than “I’m Mike Bloomberg and I should be president.”
Think about all the places the hundreds of millions of dollars he will spend could be used to provide bigger civic benefits. Voter registration and outreach efforts; support for Senate Democratic candidates in potentially close races; heck, how about buying up a bunch of struggling newspapers and revitalizing an industry essential to a representative democracy. Granted, Bloomberg has a net worth of an estimated $54 billion, so he’s got money to throw around. And last week he announced a $20 million initiative to fund voter registration efforts in battleground states. But considering what he’s spending in TV ads this feels little more than Bloomberg spending the spare change he has in his couch to try and prove to Democratic voters that he’s not squandering millions on an ego-driven campaign.
But of course he is.
Bloomberg is not going to be the Democratic nominee for president. Everyone knows that, even the cynical political consultants who have somehow convinced him that he’s got a chance. His money could be used for far better purposes that would help Democrats and democracy. That he’s choosing instead to wage a quixotic and almost certainly failed effort to win the White House is not just embarrassing — it’s a useful reminder that just because you’re a billionaire it doesn’t mean you have a clue.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.