Former Republican mayor of New York City-turned-Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg represents a unique threat to American democracy. No, he's not as obviously confused as President Trump sometimes appears to be, nor does he come across quite as vindictively fickle. But, while Trump ran — and won — largely on presenting himself as the embodiment of immense wealth, and therefore possessing some implicit, attendant competence, Bloomberg is the real deal: someone with enough money to fundamentally alter the way politics works in this country through the sheer weight of his bank account.
Already we've begun to see the politics-warping gravitational effect that Bloomberg's estimated $64 billion dollar net worth has enabled. He's spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars on campaign ads alone this cycle; he's starved other campaigns of local staff, thanks to the exorbitant salaries he's willing and able to provide; he's racked up a host of endorsements comprised in no small part of leaders whose communities have been the beneficiaries of his philanthropic largesse. And thanks to a last-minute rule change by the Democratic National Committee that removed certain fundraising requirements to make it onto a debate stage, Bloomberg — whose campaign is thus far largely self-funded — will be the star attraction at Wednesday evening's debate in Nevada.
It's there, then, that the rest of the Democratic candidates will have their first real chance to make a stand against the surging billionaire. Wednesday's debate is a rare opportunity for the entire Democratic field to come together as a single body and absolutely pummel Bloomberg until there's nothing in his tarnished record that has gone unreviewed before the voting public. It's a chance to nip Bloomberg's exercise in "politics as a commodity to be bought" in the bud. It's a chance to reclaim any semblance of dignity for a Democratic Party that has spent the past four years raging against a racist, reactionary New York tycoon — only to now flirt with nominating a marginally more competent one of their own.
The other Democratic candidates have plenty of potent ammunition from which to choose. As Bloomberg's polling numbers have steadily risen over the past few days, a slew of unearthed and under-scrutinized statements as well as a renewed focus on his track record as New York City mayor has galvanized a nascent "anyone but Bloomberg" movement across the progressive online sphere and into the mainstream political discourse.
Wednesday's debate is a rare opportunity for the entire Democratic field to come together as a single body and absolutely pummel Bloomberg until there's nothing in his tarnished record that has gone unreviewed before the voting public.
Speaking at a rally in Tacoma, Washington, on Tuesday, Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders, the progressive Vermont senator, excoriated Bloomberg's "stop and frisk" policy that overwhelmingly targeted communities of color during his mayoral tenure. Calling it "racist," Sanders declared that stop and frisk "caused communities of color, African Americans, and Latinos, to live in fear and humiliation in New York City."
Predictably, Sanders also took aim at the fact that Bloomberg — the very embodiment of the billionaire class the senator frequently criticizes — is attempting to spend his way into winning the primary. "Today, we say to Mayor Bloomberg, ‘We are a democracy, not an oligarchy,'" Sanders told supporters, adding to the mayor directly, "You are not going to buy this election."
Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has taken aim at Bloomberg's past as an avowed Republican, tweeting that he doesn't "endorse Republicans" after Bloomberg released an ad featuring praise from Biden. Biden was previously a leader in the primary but has faltered of late, and Bloomberg is aiming for the same moderate swath of the Democratic electorate that Biden was thought to have cornered. The two (or, likely more accurately, their respective social media teams) got in a Twitter back-and-forth Wednesday after Biden tweeted a video slamming Bloomberg's record, prompting the Bloomberg camp to share footage of Biden publicly praising the former mayor.
And in a further preview of Wednesday night's almost-guaranteed fireworks, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren dubbed Bloomberg an "egomaniac billionaire" akin to Trump himself.
If there's anyone who's likely to go easy on Bloomberg during Wednesday's debate, it's Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has been decidedly absent from the more pointed attacks his rivals have lobbed Hizzoner's way. Asked about Bloomberg's history of sexist remarks, Buttigieg on Fox News Sunday said simply, "I think he's going to have to answer for that and speak to it." It was hardly blistering criticism of a man who allegedly said his proprietary computer system "will do everything, including give you a blowjob. I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business."
In part, Buttigieg's apparent disinterest in a direct attack on Bloomberg might stem from the fact that in many ways, Bloomberg's recent ascendency in the race has taken a good deal of pressure off Buttigieg himself. Where once leftist Twitter delighted in Pete the Rat jokes, that energy seems to have largely shifted toward a sustained barrage on Bloomberg and his decidedly Trumpian political history. If Mayor Pete is a milquetoast centrist, Bloomberg is seen a genuine threat.
For his part, Bloomberg has decided that his best bet right now is to position the primary as a race solely between himself and Sanders, and use that reasoning as a cudgel with which to try to beat the other candidates out of the running entirely. It's a threat — buzz off, or lose by nominating a scary socialist — which the other Democratic hopefuls would be wrong to heed. While Sanders's brand of democratic socialism may unnerve many in the party, it wouldn't be nearly as destructive to Democrats, and the country as a whole, as acquiescing to an unfathomably wealthy drop-in candidate who is betting he can buy his way to success by breaking politics on behalf of the haves, and at the expense of the have-nots.
Which brings us back to Wednesday night's debate, and how Bloomberg will fare under a bombardment of criticism in his first real outing as a serious contender in the race. Bloomberg isn't even on the ballot in Nevada, which caucuses Saturday, which means his appearance on the debate stage in Las Vegas has more potential to hurt him than to boost any immediate electoral chances. Will his name-boosting spending allow him to weasel his way through a history of alleged racism, sexism, and war-boosting, or will he be forced to actually address his long record of being extremely bad? Will the other Democratic contenders be successful in drawing enough televised blood to make his candidacy as radioactive as it deserves to be?
Bloomberg isn't Trump — he's what Trump wishes he could be. Here's hoping the Democrats recognize the threat he poses now, and stop it before it's too late for all of us.