Analysts say party-switching Michael Bloomberg to face same hurdles as Trump

December 6, 2018 GMT

As Michael Bloomberg begins to make the rounds of the early primary states ahead of a possible 2020 White House bid, Democrats are pondering whether they’re ready to nominate their own billionaire party-switcher to take on President Trump.

Party activists and analysts say he will have many of the same hurdles to overcome as Mr. Trump did, including a long history of positions and behavior that at the outset puts him at odds with today’s Democrats.

“Here is somebody who was elected as a Republican, here is somebody who has very, very close ties to Wall Street and big business,” said Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College in New York. “Here is someone who politically has been a lot more pragmatic and business-minded, and driven by that rather than sort of being an ideologue.”


Mr. Bloomberg, who went from Republican to independent during his three terms as New York mayor, then officially registered as a Democrat two months ago, has already begun the groveling.

A previous critic of government supports for ethanol, he was in Iowa Tuesday and assured corn farmers, the biggest beneficiaries of the ethanol mandate, they have nothing to fear from him.

Republican groups were happy to highlight the “flip flop,” though it remains to be seen how that evolution plays with primary voters.

It is also not clear whether a 76-year-old white man, sometimes referred to as a plutocrat, is the right fit for a party increasingly agitating for younger and minority faces.

Skip Cleaver, chairman of the Nashua Democratic City Committee in New Hampshire, said he doubts Mr. Bloomberg’s party-shopping over the years will cost him.

“For a few it may make a difference,” he said. “But I would say for a majority of the people I am in contact with, we welcome him into the Democratic Party.”

Easing the transition is Mr. Bloomberg’s years of activism on key liberal issues of gun control and global warming.

His organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, spent heavily in last month’s election, and went far beyond guns to tout abortion rights and other staple Democratic issues.

Mr. Bloomberg also received a “tremendous reception” from activists when he headlined an event with Moms Demand Action, an offshoot of Everytown, before the election in Nashua, Mr. Cleaver said.

But the party chairman said Mr. Bloomberg will have to win over voters who in the last election cheered Sen. Bernard Sanders’ anti-Wall Street message.


“It is hard to see how a billionaire versus billionaire would play in the Democratic advantage,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg’s personal wealth, though, has been and could be one of his biggest political strengths.

He shattered spending records and easily outspent his rivals during his three mayoral wins $74 million in 2001, $85 million in 2005 and more than $112 million in 2009 blanketing the airwaves and newspapers with ads and overflowing mailboxes with campaign fliers, according to the New York Times.

Mr. Bloomberg opened his wallet again in the 2018 election cycle, spending another $112 million through his political organizations.

Some $41 million of that went to Democrats in 24 key House races and 21 of them won.

Yet he also raised money for Republican Rep. Peter King’s re-election campaign in New York this year, which could become a line of attack in a Democratic primary, just as Mr. Trump’s past support for Democrats was used against him.

For now, Mr. Bloomberg is touting his liberal bona fides, using his visit to Iowa this week as a chance to promote a new documentary on climate change he helped bankroll.

Rebecca Katz, a chief strategist for Cynthia Nixon’s unsuccessful primary challenge against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York, said liberal activist don’t trust Mr. Bloomberg but his deep pockets could help him overwhelm some of his lesser financed competitors.

“I just got out of the race with Cynthia Nixon and Andrew Cuomo and my big takeaway is having a lot of money is not nothing,” Ms. Katz said. “Michael Bloomberg is by far not as progressive as the Democratic electorate, especially in primaries, but he has enough money to run television ads talking about being pro-choice and pro-gun safety that he might be able to convince people otherwise.

“I believe voters will be smarter than that, and really look at his corporate-friendly record, his defense of some ‘Me Too’ personalities and his dismissive nature.”

Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University, said there is a raging debate over whether a white man can capture the Democratic Party nomination and get elected.

“The answer is, ‘Yes’ especially when it’s a guy who has sprinkled dough around,” Mr. Schmidt said.