One of the theories behind the Bernie Sanders campaign, one often shared by his more devoted fans in the media, is that Democrats lost voters to Donald Trump in 2016 because they had ceased to talk about the economic issues that matter to those voters. Hadn’t Obama also shared his concern about trade deals and signaled his loyalty to the auto industry? Well, when Democrats stopped attacking the rich, they stopped broadcasting a signal of loyalty to workers. Democrats allowed Trump to talk about jobs more than they did.
These people acknowledge that one of the problems with Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is that she was unabashedly tied to the elite. Goldman Sachs paid her to speak to them. So did other financial institutions. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s presidency was feared by the well-to-do. Clinton claimed that the part of America she won represented “two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product.” And, so the Bernie-fans say, without giving up our progressive goals, we should go back to talking about the middle class, jobs, and health care and win again. We need to stop litigating who is deplorable.
The psychological appeal of the Mike Bloomberg campaign, on the other hand, is that it doesn’t try to win back some deplorables, but to call them out as losers and punish them. The message is that Trump’s opponents have nothing for which they should apologize. Floating the possibility of Hillary Clinton his running mate was the perfect signal from Mike Bloomberg to her supporters: Join me and avenge 2016.
The Mike Bloomberg theory of winning is a theory of elite self-assertion. He’s the real billionaire who built a business from scratch. He’s the real executive who ran a business for profit, not for television. He’s the real philanthropist. And he’ll defeat Trump’s earned media spectacles with paid-for professional media advertising — whether it is Super Bowl ads, or memes from the most popular Instagram accounts.
Bloomberg is going to be the real expert on everything. This does have an appeal to the kind of liberal who shared viral images about seceding from “Jesusland” after the 2004 election, the kind of person who thinks smart and informed almost exhaustively define good.
For Bloomberg, constitutional rights like the Second Amendment aren’t any more relevant than powdered wigs and can be dismissed with a simple, “C’mon, let’s get real.” At some point, Bloomberg becomes the type of New York City blowhard who, the minute he finds himself upstate, can’t stop blabbing about how he and everyone productive in the big city pay all the state taxes so that everyone he’s passing by in his black SUV can work for the local county and test each other’s water. It’s a serene confidence, and supreme self-esteem married to pig ignorance about the other half.
He approaches everything with an Olympian condescension. When discussing his efforts at passing gun-control legislation across the U.S., he implied that Colorado Springs and Pueblo are places so rural, “I don’t think there’s roads.” Colorado Springs is one of the most important industrial cities in America and rapidly growing as a hub of IT talent.
But Bloomberg knows everything. “I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer,” he once said to the University of Oxford Saïd Business School. “It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.” He said it didn’t take much “grey matter” to do this. At the same event he seemed to concede that modern economies do need to find a way to provide the non-Oxford type “the dignity of a job,” otherwise people would “set up the guillotines someday.” Bloomberg also knows which cancer patients deserve medical care, and which ones don’t.
Bloomberg sometimes says things that gentry liberals aren’t supposed to say out loud. For instance, that crime control is just a matter of throwing young non-white men against walls and searching them. Or that the fatties need to be taught a lesson by government. On the regressivity of his soda taxes, Bloomberg was proud: “That’s the good thing about them,” he said, “because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money. And so, higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves.”
Bernie Sanders has at least conceded that some portion of the Senate’s filibuster should be preserved to allow some minority power of veto. But Bloomberg’s ideal of governance is proudly authoritarian. “Far and away, you should give more powers to the executive branch if you want progress,” he told one audience.
The ten wealthiest districts in the country are represented by Democrats. Mike is just one of the latest wealthy guys to make the switch. He is the candidate for people who are in no mood to mollify the masses, who think smart and informed leadership needs to be liberated from legislatures and constitutions, and who think that Colorado Springs is just another part of an undifferentiated hickville: needful of gun control, diet advice, and, sure, a few jobs — so they don’t behead the winners.