It’s amusing to learn that Mike Bloomberg, just last year, was filmed speaking with his customary bluntness about transgender individuals: “If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that’s not a winning formula for most people,” he said at a business development forum.
You can’t talk that way anymore in the upper levels of the Democratic party, the media, the arts, or even corporate America. If Bloomberg had said this as the CEO of a publicly traded company, instead of as the owner of a private one, intense pressure would have been put on the board to fire him. And this was hardly the first time he said something that was guaranteed to offend. “We put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is,” Bloomberg said in 2015 at the Aspen Institute, adding, “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them.”
Bloomberg hasn’t had to report to anyone for many years, and being as frank as he likes, no matter how rude he sounds, is part of his brand. “A List of Things Bloomberg Actually Said About Fat People, Rape, George W. Bush, and J.Lo” ran one of the more entertaining headlines of this campaign season. My personal favorite is one of many one-liners contained in the now-infamous booklet, The Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg. It was published as a sort of party favor back in 1990 by his employees, and no one quite seems to be able to tell if it is a spoof or an actual compendium of Bloomberg remarks. If the former, it sounds a lot like the latter to a lot of people. A highlight is Bloomberg’s summing-up of the British royals: “What a bunch of misfits — a gay, an architect, that horsey-faced lesbian, and a kid who gave up Koo Stark for some fat broad.” (Fact check: Prince Charles is not an architect, merely an architectural enthusiast.)
Yet Bloomberg’s sharp rise in polling has coincided with a concerted effort by the media to score him for all of these grave offenses against political correctness. We’re about to learn whether anyone outside the elite stratum of the country actually considers these sorts of barbed comments to be disqualifying. True, nobody is allowed to talk like this anymore. But then again, the only other politician who dares to is the current occupant of the White House. Which raises the question: Does a history of extreme political incorrectness actually boost Bloomberg’s chances?
Reading about what Democratic voters have to say, it’s evident that all principles and policies are negotiable. The only thing that matters to them is defeating Donald Trump. Medicare for All, Medicare for All Who Want It, continue the status quo? Whatever. As long as someone other than Trump is in charge. Democratic voters have discarded Elizabeth Warren because they don’t think she can defeat Trump, and they are having severe misgivings about Joe Biden because they’re not sure he’s still vigorous enough for battle, or indeed vigorous enough to make it through a sentence without taking a break for a nap. Bernie Sanders, too, has to be making Democratic voters nervous: Hey, we just want Trump gone, we don’t want to be annexed by Denmark. Most Democrats are aware that Sanders is extreme, and more important, most Democrats are aware that swing voters in Michigan and Wisconsin are aware of this.
American elites hear the way Bloomberg talks and think: Shocking! Disqualifying! Outrageous! Median voters might hear something very different: This guy is a match for Trump! Instead of choosing a parody of an earnest loser in a rumpled sweater who has a garage full of Eugene V. Debs filmstrips, the Dems could go with a swashbuckling, trash-talking, don’t-give-a-fig capitalist buccaneer who is prepared to rain insults on Trump, not just gently shake his head and say, “That’s not who we are.” Instead of having a pathetic old schmuck in a subcompact who seems like he should be teaching bored high schoolers, they could have a fiercely combative alpha male who could buy and sell Trump 20 times over. Why not dump Walter White and go with Heisenberg?
The sort of people who get the vapors at offensive comments are going to vote for the Democrat this fall no matter who it is. Bloomberg’s political incorrectness won’t matter any more than Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War mattered in 2016. Yet the prospect of riding into battle with someone who is as arrogant, aggressive, politically incorrect, and corrosively funny as Trump has to be a tempting proposition to a lot of Democrats. Even if it’s a fellow New York billionaire.