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. ‘Bloomberg’s entrance could harm the current crop of Democratic candidates’ Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

Does America need another billionaire in the 2020 race? Bloomberg thinks so

Bloomberg is worried that no one in the current crop of Democratic candidates is ‘well positioned’ to defeat Donald Trump. But is he?

Cas Mudde

There is nothing bigger than the ego of a rich, old, white man. And thus, yet another billionaire without popular support is about to enter the 2020 presidential race. After Tom Steyer joined the race in July, it’s now the turn of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg, a former Republican who is allegedly worth $52bn, is worried that no one in the current crop of Democratic candidates is “well positioned” to defeat Donald Trump. While this might be true, there is no reason to assume Bloomberg himself is either.

Of course, his candidacy does not come as a surprise. Since 2008 there has not been a presidential election without speculation of a Bloomberg run. There was even a Draft Bloomberg movement in 2008, re-launched as the Committee to Draft Michael Bloomberg in 2010 for the 2012 presidential elections. But there has never been any evidence of actual popular support for a Bloomberg presidency.

In many ways, his candidacy is a logical consequence of the relentless campaign for Democratic centrism, which has taken on feverish forms since the Joe Biden’s campaign ran into problems and the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and, particularly, Elizabeth Warren took off. In fact, Bloomberg has repeatedly attacked Warren, most recently for her “wealth tax”, and a few weeks ago a billionaire confidante of his said: “Bloomberg is in if Biden is out.”

Unlike the grassroots campaigns from the left, the centrist campaigns are pure Astroturf, pushed by pundits like Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin, some of whom are former Republicans, as well as new “non-partisan” think tanks like the Niskanen Center. Even if there is some evidence that most Democratic voters want a “more moderate” party, whatever that means, Bloomberg has taken these (former) Washington elites as the voice of the silent majority, frightened by both the radical right Trump and the “radical left” Sanders/Warren.

But why would this frightened silent majority want Bloomberg? Absolute everything he brings is already on offer within the Democratic primary. The field has several septuagenarians (e.g. Biden and Sanders), more than enough white men (eg Biden, Sanders, Pete Buttigieg), and several centrists (Biden, Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar). The Democrats even already have an old, white, male billionaire, Tom Steyer.

Would a Bloomberg candidacy matter? Probably not much in the most important aspects: money and voters. With the energy among Democrats squarely on the left, and among youths and non-whites, Bloomberg will have a hard time finding an electorate. His potential electorate overlaps largely with that of Biden, who has one remaining)trump card, which will keep his supporters from shifting to an untested candidate like Bloomberg: Biden’s perceived electability. And few small donors are going to give their money to fund the campaign of the 9th richest person in the country.

But Bloomberg’s entrance could harm the current crop of Democratic candidates, and the Democratic campaign as a whole, in one way: by pushing the narrative that the Democrats lack a strong candidate back to the center of the political debate. For months now, the media have been reporting about alleged “anxiety” about the party’s chances, the “uncertainty” in the field, and the “weakness of the Democratic field”.

Most of these articles simply express the opinion of the author, a journalist or pundit, or are at best based on anecdotal evidence provided by anonymous insider sources. There is little actual evidence of frustration among the rank-and-file. Sure, there is no clear frontrunner, and even Joe Biden is now polling under 30%, but that is not uncommon at this stage of the campaign. In November 2015 Ben Carson was leading the Republican field with 29%, with Trump second at 23% – not dissimilar to Biden and Warren/Sanders today.

In short, Bloomberg’s entrance in the race is not evidence of grassroots dissatisfaction among the Democratic base. Rather, it is evidence of a centrist political establishment that worries that its days of influence and power are numbered.

  • Cas Mudde is a Guardian US columnist and the Stanley Wade Shelton UGAF Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia

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