Super Tuesday’s flurry of presidential primaries delivered many surprising storylines, not least the spectacular collapse of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The former president candidate who spent more than half a billion dollars (no, that’s not a typo) on his candidacy won only one contest—American Samoa, which awards only 0.15 percent of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention—and fell badly behind a surging Joe Biden. Bloomberg returned to New York late Tuesday, and Wednesday announced his withdrawal from the race.
After the Nevada Democratic presidential debate, some observers seemed surprised that Bloomberg performed so horribly in his first appearance on the debate stage. While he hadn’t appeared in a debate since his last mayoral campaign more than a decade ago, some still seemed surprised at the way Bloomberg got caught flat-footed by attacks he should have known were coming.
Three decades ago, an episode of the nation’s longest-running animated program provided a cautionary tale for Bloomberg’s presidential candidacy. “The Simpsons” not only predicted (albeit in satirical form) a Trump presidency, it also illustrated why Bloomberg’s flailing candidacy fell flat with voters.
Trying to Buy High Office
An episode of “The Simpsons’” second season, which originally aired in November 1990, also featured an unloved plutocrat trying to win (or purchase) high office. In “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,” the owner of Springfield’s nuclear plant, Charles Montgomery Plantagenet Schicklgruber Burns, runs for governor.
The discovery of a three-eyed fish (a.k.a. “Blinky”) near the nuclear plant leads to numerous safety violations, and a potential $56 million fine for Burns. But mediocre employee extraordinaire Homer Simpson reminds Burns that if he were governor, he could make his own safety rules, prompting Burns’s gubernatorial run.
As with Bloomberg, Burns proceeds to “assemble the finest campaign team money can buy,” including a speech writer, joke writer, makeup man, spin doctor, personal trainer, muckraker, character assassin, mud slinger, and “garbologist.” With this campaign team, Burns airs ads to make him more loved (or less hated) by the public. He tries to explain away “Blinky’s” mutations, and attacks his opponent, the incumbent Mary Bailey.
As with Bloomberg, the overwhelming display of campaign cash works, at least at first, putting him into a neck-and-neck race. Unfortunately, however, Burns soon discovers, just as Bloomberg did in his first debate, that notwithstanding his billions, certain elements of a campaign still lie outside his control.
Mr. Burns’s Past Haunts Him
The climax, and eventual nadir, of Burns’s campaign occurs during an election-eve dinner at the Simpson house. Burns’s campaign team thinks a dinner with ordinary citizens could put him “over the top,” and lead to his ultimate victory.
But the dinner comes with risks: While Homer, the ever-loyal employee, supports Burns’s campaign, his wife Marge opposes what she views as Burns’s attempt to buy the governorship. When she objects to her family being used as a campaign prop in Burns’s pre-election dinner, Homer tells Marge she can express herself through her cooking.
Marge does exactly that, serving Burns “Blinky,” the three-eyed fish, as his dinner. With live cameras rolling, Burns’s campaign advisors urge him to partake of the fish, but he spits out the first bite, and his advisors admit Mr. Burns’s campaign is “ruined before [the fish] hit the ground.”
Bloomberg Ruined by His Own Record?
As with Burns, Bloomberg’s campaign seemed designed for him to win the presidency without leaving a television studio. He entered the campaign very late—ostensibly because he developed second thoughts about whether former Vice President Joe Biden could win, but perhaps because he never wanted to bother himself with retail politicking (i.e., interactions with actual voters) in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
While Bloomberg thought he could float above it all with hundreds of millions of dollars in ads, the first time he received a serious challenge—in the form of his fellow candidates on stage in Las Vegas—all his prior shortcomings came to the fore: His history of offensive comments towards women, his lack of transparency, and his sudden flip-flop regarding his policing policies while mayor of New York.
In the morality play of an animated drama, the fictitious Mr. Burns found out the hard way that, try as he might, he ultimately couldn’t hide from voters—or his history. Bloomberg learned the same difficult lesson in Nevada, in a way that foreshadowed his candidacy would suffer the same ignominious end.