By Theo Wargo/Getty Images.
Money can’t buy presidencies, as Jeb Bush discovered in 2016, when he spent more than $130 million, only to drop out without winning a single state in the Republican primary. It appears that’s not going to stop former mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire philanthropist and political shape-shifter who has flirted with running against Donald Trump in 2020, to the great chagrin of some Democratic strategists not on Bloomberg’s payroll. As one operative put it to my colleague Chris Smith in October, after Bloomberg announced that he would drop around $100 million on Democratic candidates in the midterms, “Nobody loves Daddy Warbucks, even if he’s working for the good guys.”
Bloomberg, whose net worth is reported to be around $43.2 billion, seems willing to test that proposition. This week, Bloomberg political advisor Howard Wolfson told CNBC that his boss is prepared to spend just as much as Jeb Bush—if not more—to win. “Mike spent more than $100 million in his last mayor’s race [in 2009]. Last time I looked, NYC is a fraction of the size of the country as a whole,” Wolfson wrote in an e-mail. During that race, Bloomberg won a third term, pulling off a narrow victory as an Independent candidate with 50.7 percent of the vote. And how much would he spend to win the presidency? “Whatever is required,” said Wolfson.
If he does decide to leap into the race, Bloomberg will automatically have a giant monetary advantage over his rivals, even prodigious small-donor fundraisers like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke, all of whom raked in millions in recent campaign cycles. (O’Rourke, who nearly unseated Ted Cruz, in Texas of all places, raised a record-breaking $38 million in a single quarter.) Bloomberg, unlike Trump, is not only spectacularly rich, his assets are also more liquid: $100 million amounts to only about 0.2 percent of the fortune Bloomberg has amassed in the decades since he founded his eponymous global financial services, media, and software company. With resources like his, Bloomberg could easily blanket the country in digital and TV advertising, pay for a large field operation, and potentially bleed his less well-funded rivals dry.
Democratic strategists are hoping that Bloomberg will see the way the wind is blowing and bow out long before it gets to that point. “There is a real hunger for generational change,” an Iowa Democrat operative recently told Smith. “And I don’t know that Bloomberg is going to fill either of the two buckets most caucus-goers will be looking for: a fire-breathing progressive that they believe will generate the turnout necessary to beat Trump in 2020, and the kind of inspirational healer that will unite the country.”
So far, the numbers don’t look good for Bloomberg. Despite recent appearances in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire, crucial battleground states, recent polling shows only 36 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Bloomberg. About a fifth view him unfavorably, and 44 percent have no opinion. (In contrast, former Vice President Joe Biden, a frontrunner of the potential field, held a massive 84–7 favorability rating.) But in a race where Trump has already raised more than $100 million for his own campaign, and where Russians are reportedly interested in keeping him in power, endless cash reserves, combined with a potentially moderate candidacy, could make Bloomberg an appealing alternative among some former Clintonites. It won’t please the progressive base, but if and when he gets another political run out of his system, perhaps he’ll pay it forward.