While Mike Bloomberg is extremely unlikely to win the Democratic nomination, his central goal remains derailing Sanders’ campaign and defending the billionaire class. As many in the capitalist establishment conspire to block Bernie in a brokered Democratic convention, Bloomberg could still play a big role whipping up hysteria and misinformation about the alleged “dangers” of nominating Sanders.
For a few weeks leading up to Mike Bloomberg’s first debate performance on February 19, he was steadily rising in the polls, lifted by his massive ad buys. As he surpassed Biden for second place in some national polls, the buzz was palpable in ruling class circles that maybe they had finally found their White Knight to save them from Bernie Sanders.
To any serious political observer not living inside the Washington beltway or corporate media bubble, the idea was always laughable that Bloomberg – a billionaire with a long record of racism, sexism, and anti-worker policies – could unite the left-ward moving Democratic Party base to defeat Trump. But after his disastrous performance in the February 19 debate, even the cable news pundits seemed to recognize Bloomberg’s serious “vulnerabilities.”
Yet it would be a mistake to under-estimate his continuing impact on the race and the threat he represents to Sanders. With a net-worth estimated at $65.2 billion, Bloomberg is the 9th richest man in the world. In the two short months since entering the race for the White House, Bloomberg’s spending demolished the previous advertising records set by Obama and Trump over the course of their entire campaigns!
According to a two-part expose in The Guardian last week, Bloomberg’s “fortune has launched a campaign dripping in cash: showering hundreds of millions on adverts, hiring thousands of staffers with astonishing perks and creating a web of political patronage that has won him key endorsements.”
“He’s sort of changing the boundaries for what is possible,” said the Sarah Bryner of the Center for Responsive Politics.
With a half-billion already spent, Bloomberg’s “ads blanket television markets and social media in a barrage of messaging,” promoting the idea that only another billionaire can beat Trump. “Wherever American eyeballs go, so goes the Bloomberg campaign,” quipped The Guardian. “In the first six weeks of 2020, more than 1.6bn of the 2.4bn presidential campaign ads shown to US Facebook users were from the Bloomberg campaign,” accounting for a full 69% of presidential ads seen by Facdbook users. Trump is a distant second at 12% and Sanders trails with just 7% of campaign ads seen.
The Myth of Centrist “Electability”
Despite all this, within the span of a few days Mike Bloomberg’s grand experiment in election-buying went from looking like a serious challenge for the White House into a bungled hail-mary to block Bernie. His steady rise in the polls up to the February 19 debate was slammed into reverse following the smack-down he received there. Then Bernie’s landslide victory in Nevada further dimmed Bloomberg’s prospects for winning the nomination.
Following Biden’s victory in South Carolina, it seems clear the establishment is once again attempting to rally behind the former vice-president as their best hope against Bernie. This pressure is behind the decision of Buttigieg and Klobuchar to wind up their campaigns just before Super Tuesday.
Now Bloomberg’s unprecedented effort to buy the election risks doing more to divide the efforts of establishment forces than helping. On the eve of the March 3rd Super Tuesday primary contests, where Sanders remains ahead in most polls, and where Bloomberg has spent hundreds of millions on ads, the cash-strapped Biden campaign faces a major challenge to re-establish him as a serious contender.
Despite the Democrats’ decision to stack the February 25 debate in South Carolina with wealthy donors and party insiders, charging $1,750 to attend, Bloomberg’s weak performance did not boost his prospects. Commentators have focused on Bloomberg’s deeply un-charismatic presentation, likely rooted in the same kind of self-aggrandizing echo-chamber Trump seems to live in. While this election does seem to offer America a uniquely ugly window into out-of-touch psychology of old, rich, white billionaires who surround themselves with sycophants, this isn’t the main reason nominating Bloomberg against Trump would be a disaster for the Democrats.
It’s worth repeating this excerpt from Krystal Ball, co-host of TheHill.com’s political talk show “Rising,” taken from her brilliant February 14 take-down of Bloomberg’s electability argument:
“Do you really think Michael Bloomberg is going to win back the working-class white folks who backed Trump over trade in the industrial midwest? Is he going to excite young voters who want a political revolution? Will he give the black and brown working class a reason to take off work to suspend their disbelief in a political system that has screwed them repeatedly in order to vote for Mike frickin’ Bloomberg? Please – it’s absurd on its face…
“Just think about what Trump did to Hillary in the Black community last time around. He didn’t have to win people over. He just had to get a certain percent to stay home. [Ball replays 2016 Trump ad featuring Clinton calling Black youth “super-predators”]… In the end, and in Philly, and in Milwaukee, in Detroit, enough Black folks were turned off by Hillary… for all those who talk about unity, that’s not a one-way street. If you want lefties to stay in the tent, you’re gonna have to give them some reason to vote… An entirely predictable result of a Bloomberg nomination – especially if it occurs through a brokered convention – is losing a significant chunk of progressives and young voters, and not just for one election cycle. If a right-wing oligarch can buy the nomination, then many would justifiably lose faith in our system.”
An online poll of “Rising” viewers received 60,000 responses, with two-thirds saying they wouldn’t vote for either Bloomberg, if he were the Democratic nominee, or Trump in November.
A Record of Racism, Sexism, and Attacks on Workers
Bloomberg’s energetic defense of racist “stop-and-frisk” policing while mayor of New York has been widely criticized, and his apology for the policy just as he announced his candidacy was widely rejected as dishonest opportunism. Just this week, when Bloomberg had the audacity to speak at a church in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the “Bloody Sunday” police repression of the civil rights movement, many in the congregation stood and turned their backs to him in protest.
As Warren correctly pointed out in the February 19th debate, the list of women accusing Bloomberg and his company of harrassment and sexist discrimination is nearly as long as Trump’s. The internet is awash in clips of Bloomberg making sexist and racist comments, alongside endless displays of offensive billionaire arrogance toward regular working people.
“[Bloomberg] criticized Trump for proposing cuts to Medicaid/Medicare/Social Security, and pledged without detail to expand services,” according to the Alexander Sammon, whose recent article in The American Prospect details Bloomberg’s record. “But that pledge belies a decade of calls to cut the programs, raise the eligibility age, etc.”
The advocacy group Social Security Works tweeted: “Over and over again, Michael Bloomberg shows contempt for Social Security and its beneficiaries. If he wins the presidency, striking a ‘grand bargain’ with Mitch McConnell to cut our earned benefits is likely to be among his top priorities.”
Bloomberg’s drive to privatize public education has received less media coverage. After assuming direct mayoral control of New York’s public schools in 2002, he over-saw a dramatic expansion of charter schools while defunding critical programs in the public schools and closing 150 of them, earning him an 80% disapproval rating among New York teachers. Nationally Bloomberg has funded both Republican and Democratic candidates pushing to privatize public education. In California alone, he’s spent $39 million to advance pro-corporate, pro-charter politicians at every level of government.
Bloomberg Takes Aim at Bernie
It would be a major mistake, however, for the movement behind Sanders to be lulled into complacency by the divisions and weaknesses of the ruling class. Bloomberg’s billions can still do real damage to Bernie’s campaign, and the threat of a brokered convention stealing the nomination from Sanders remains very real.
“Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign plans to unleash its cash-flush media operation against Bernie Sanders in the wake of the Vermont senator’s resounding victory in the Nevada caucuses,” reported CNBC last Monday. “The campaign, which has already spent over $500 million on media ad buys, plans a multi-pronged attack, including the publication of opposition research on Sanders, the sources added.”
The first barrage of ads say Bernie is “bought by the NRA,” claiming the gun lobby “paved the road to Washington for Bernie Sanders.” Bloomberg’s surrogates are attacking Sanders as a tool of the Russians and claiming, falsely, that Trump wants to face off against Bernie. We should be prepared for a heavy barrage of red-baiting attacks, falsely painting Sanders as an apologist for authoritarian Stalinist regimes, all to drive home the idea that Sanders will alienate too many voters to defeat Trump. Of course, crude attacks from such a reactionary source as Bloomberg can also have the opposite effect on many people. When Amazon obscenely dropped $1.5 million in late 2019 in the Seattle city council race to get rid of socialist councilmember Kshama Sawant it helped make many people even more determined to stop their attempt to buy the elections.
A Desperate Ruling Class
The myth of a robust American democracy that promoted pragmatism above naked class conflict was, historically, a central ideological pillar of the U.S. two-party political system. It was envied by capitalists globally as the most stable and reliable form of ruling class domination in the modern world.
Especially important was the historic role of the Democratic Party, which combined support from labor and oppressed communities with a reliably pro-business leadership. In the post-World War II era, this contrasted sharply with the mass workers parties of Europe which helped force through dramatic expansions of the welfare state, pro-labor laws, and far-reaching democratic reforms.
The old stability of the U.S. political system has been unraveling for some time. But what we’re witnessing now is possibly the most open, naked, unvarnished class battle in the history of American electoral politics: a leading oligarch of Wall Street spending his personal billions to buy the White House and to stop a self-declared socialist calling for a government “of, by, and for working people.”
Bloomberg’s unprecedented experiment in election-buying may face its ultimate test this week. The outcome of the March 3 Super Tuesday primary contests could further solidify Sanders lead but it could also reveal that money in politics remains a determining factor. Millions of primary voters have only recently begun to tune into the election, less aware of the discussion on Bloomberg’s record and more susceptible to Bloomberg’s blitz of lies.
At the same time, what this election has already proven is that tens of millions of people – especially the younger generations – have acquired a sharper nose for billionaire-funded bulls**t and corporate media distortions. This heightened class consciousness is a pillar of Bernie Sanders rise, helping the mass movement behind him see through the typical slander and disinformation directed towards social movements and working class representatives. Through social media, millions of Sanders supporters have fought back at every turn.
The New York Times inability to stop Sanders with their systematically biased coverage led them to publish a hand-wringing February 22 article labeling Bernie “the Teflon Candidate.” At the same time, they warn of (and encourage!) a new level of attacks on Sanders.
Goldman Sach’s ex-CEO Lloyd Blankfein summed up the feeling of most Wall Street and big business owners when he made headlines last week saying he’ll likely vote for Trump over Sanders. There is intense ruling class pressure on the Democratic Party establishment to stop Sanders at almost any cost. For the movement behind Bernie, we need to keep the focus on winning the coming primaries, growing our active base, and being prepared for an all-out fight leading up to the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee. Socialist Alternative has called for a #MilliontoMilwaukee to have Bernie’s back. Ultimately, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested a few weeks ago, we should not be in the same party as Biden – or Bloomberg! If the naked class war characterizing the 2020 election teaches us anything, it’s that working people need our own political party to organize an ongoing struggle – in the electoral arena, in our workplaces, and on the streets – to win Bernie’s political revolution and from there to build a real socialist alternative to this rotten system.