How far would you go to get rid of President Donald Trump? Would you give up any pretense that we live in a democracy of the people, by the people, for the people?
That seems to be the bet Mike Bloomberg is making.
Future historians may trace the moment it became inevitable that Americans would surrender to a choice between competing tycoons to Nov. 7, 2019 — the day Sen. Elizabeth Warren released her wealth tax calculator for “confused billionaires.”
The site included a dedicated link so that Bloomberg could find out what the policy proposed by Warren, then the front-runner in many polls, would cost him. Based on a net worth of $53.4 billion, the calculator tabulated he’d pay “$3.163 billion next year.”
At that point, the former New York City mayor might have thought to himself, “You know what? The total cost of the 2016 presidential election — both parties’ primaries and all — was about $2.4 billion. America has already elected one New York “billionaire” with a long history of indulging in thinly veiled sexism, racism and authoritarianism, so why not another? And many — perhaps most! — Americans would do almost anything to get rid of Trump. What do I have to lose? Hell, it would cost me more in wealth taxes not to run.”
Before November ended, Bloomberg declared he’d be a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Cash flood is working
Forbes now estimates that Bloomberg is worth $64 billion, which means his wealth is likely growing faster than he can spend it. And his campaign is spending it at a record pace, with $1 million a day going to Facebook ads alone, campaign rallies catered with food and wine, and generous salaries flooding out to staffers all over the country.
And it’s working.
He’s rising in the polls and leading in the latest poll in Florida, the state with the fourth most delegates to hand out for the Democratic convention. He will even be onstage for the Democratic debate Wednesday in Las Vegas, thanks to rule changes that seemed designed to allow him to qualify.
The popular consensus is that you could not possibly be competitive for the nomination if you skipped the first four primary contests — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — that are meant to cull the pack of candidates. That consensus is being crushed under the weight of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Soon, Democrats may end up choosing between Bloomberg, a 78-year-old Jewish billionaire who lives in New York City and is running as a benevolent billionaire, and Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 78-year-old Jewish millionaire from New York City who built his career on bashing the excesses of millionaires and billionaires.
Bloomberg, a former Democrat who became a Democrat again in 2018, is banking that disgust with Trump, along with his recent history as possibly the most important donor to Democrats and their causes, will be enough to let him hijack the nomination — or to at least stop Sanders.
Steyer to Bloomberg: Back a wealth tax or drop out of 2020 presidential race
While Trump used his star power and shamelessness to execute a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, Bloomberg is purchasing Democrats’ affection, a practice he has long used to win over potential critics. And unlike Trump, who only put in a fifth of the money his campaign spent in 2016 and seems to be raking in cash at his businesses from his 2020 campaign, Bloomberg is taking no donations. Thus, he will never have to worry about being dependent or accountable to the party’s base or donors — or anyone really, as long as he can afford billion dollar ad buys and the best consultants in the business.
Can money buy forgiveness?
Democrats are being asked to trust a candidate who helped elect Republicans through 2018 and was one of the driving forces in the reelection of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder of Flint Water Crisis fame. Why did Bloomberg back this charisma-free Michigan governor whose policies helped poison a city? Because Snyder “took on the unions.”
Can Democratic voters forgive that or policies like stop-and-frisk, the unconstitutional practice of targeting mostly black Americans that Bloomberg pursued while ignoring real threats, like bankers who were in the process of crashing the economy and Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump, whom Bloomberg praised as the reality star was birthering President Barack Obama?
Maybe, if Bloomberg keeps investing more money and effort to win over black voters than any other candidate. Maybe, if he pursues his proven passions for fighting climate change and gun violence while emphasizing promises to end the Muslim travel ban and other assaults on immigrants. Maybe, if he raises his own taxes, though by far less than Warren and Sanders would raise them.
But this is not a choice anyone has to make yet, especially when the Democratic front-runner, the leader of one the largest political movements in American history, has been besting Trump in polls for five years.
While it might feel comforting to have our self-made real billionaire beat the spray tan off the fake mismanager of his daddy’s wealth, here’s the spoiler: You don’t have any billionaires; they have you. And once they figure out it’s easier and cheaper to buy the presidency than an NFL franchise, the excesses of Trump — or even King George III — will seem trivial in comparison.
Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of “The GOTMFV Show” podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP