This wasn’t how the 2020 race was supposed to be. The establishment had a plan to take back control of Washington, D.C. Donald Trump had seized control and they needed to get it back.
After surveying the options, the plan was to give Joe Biden, President Obama’s vice president, the nomination. The media did their part, suppressing negative messaging about the 77-year-old who has never won a presidential primary or caucus. They pushed an impeachment designed to suppress President Trump’s numbers heading into the election year. Instead, it helped Trump and hurt Democrats.
When Bernie Sanders seemed poised to win Iowa, they drastically limited news coverage about the caucuses. But Biden underperformed there, then underperformed in New Hampshire, coming in an embarrassing fifth place. He may do better in Nevada and South Carolina, but his path is looking more like a slog.
When Biden faltered, the media looked at the others in the center-left lane. Democrats have two lanes, essentially. The Bernie Sanders lane and the center-left lane, sometimes misnomered by liberal journalists as a “moderate” lane despite none of the candidates in that lane being politically moderate. Sure, the establishment would take Amy Klobuchar or even Pete Buttigieg or Elizabeth Warren over Sanders. But if they’re being honest with themselves, they’re worried that those candidates don’t have what it takes.
They spent years getting high on their own supply about Biden’s strength and Trump’s weaknesses, but now they’re coming out of their narco haze and they’re panicking. They’re so desperate that they’re willing to sell the party nomination to Mike Bloomberg, of all people. While his views are at odds with many of the Democratic Party’s base voters, it’s hard to get more establishment than Bloomberg, who made billions selling his terminals to Wall Street.
This week the establishment is really amping up its flirtation with the wee New Yorker. The billionaire businessman hasn’t won any votes yet, and isn’t even on the ballot in the next two states holding elections, but he has won the support of many major media figures. The New York Times yesterday had eight stories about Bloomberg on the politics page of its website, compared to zero for ostensible delegate leader and young mayor Buttigieg. That’s not an accident.
Last Sunday’s political shows featured non-stop questions and commentary about Bloomberg, not the current odds-on favorite to win the most delegates, Sanders. Until and unless he crashes in a debate or underperforms on Super Tuesday, there is an argument that Bloomberg should be presumed to be the front-runner because he is the establishment’s clear favorite of the remaining contenders. And in the Democratic Party, that establishment support means a great deal.
Bloomberg is spending unheard of amounts of money to essentially purchase the nomination. He’s spent more than $400 million in advertising, compared to $18 million for the next non-billionaire candidate. He’s providing ridiculously fancy food spreads at voter events. And he’s hiring people at good salaries through November, regardless of whether he wins the nomination or not.
It is unclear how many people are simply agreeing to be bought and how many think his wealth is his biggest comparative advantage for defeating Trump. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.
But even if the media and Democratic establishment are more than willing to be bought off, are Democratic voters that pathetic? Possibly, but there is reason to think the voters won’t be as cheap a date as their leaders are proving to be.
Let’s first note that some analysts are comparing him to Trump himself, apparently on account of them both being brash New York billionaires. Bloomberg is, to be sure, far wealthier than nearly every other human being on the planet.
But Trump has charisma, a base of support built around his brand, and an actual agenda that is coherent and easy to understand. He took on the establishment wing of his own party and legitimately excited a base that was sick of not getting its way on illegal immigration, endless interventionism, and trade agreements they deemed unfair. Trump hits on issues GOP voters love. He won most of the votes in 2016, most of the delegates, and has extremely strong support in his party.
Bloomberg lacks charisma, has no base of support, and his campaign message is “Mike Will Get It Done,” a narcissistic claim that says nothing of substance. In fact, it is evocative of Hillary Clinton’s similarly self-focused “I’m With Her” slogan.
When Bloomberg starts filling up arenas, you can call him Trump. Or for a Democratic comparison, think of President Obama, who had real energy and real crowds, and not the kind that is purchased.
Bloomberg isn’t taking on the establishment in his party, as Trump did. He’s aligned with them on all the major issues, from guns to climate change. Compare the establishment’s treatment of Bloomberg right now with how the establishment and media responded to Trump’s candidacy. By this point in 2016, Trump was dealing with non-stop criticism from everyone in the media and party leadership every day. What pushback has Bloomberg received from his friends in the establishment?
The establishment portion of the Democratic Party and their media masters are more than fine with the soulless exchange of a service for money. Bloomberg’s problematic views on China, race, civil liberties, Me Too, college tuition, taxing the poor, and myriad other issues are something the establishment is willing to ignore in exchange for the outside chance to beat Trump.
But nominations, and elections, are usually won by people who excite the voters and respond to their issues. The evidence in support of that excitement outside of the establishment wing is lacking, at least at this point.