Feb 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Bloomberg's baggage, and barrage

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Top 2020 Democrats, armed with decades of opposition research, plan to savage Mike Bloomberg as a Democratic Trump — an egomaniac New York billionaire who's stained by sexism and racial slights, and hell-bent on buying power and puppeteering mass media.

Why it matters: Bloomberg knows it's coming, has rehearsed his retorts, readied ads and policy plans to deflect, and will unleash $1.5 billion more on ads and staff to clean up any damage.

  • Tonight’s debate in Vegas, Bloomberg's first time onstage with his rivals, should be a doozy.

The Bloomberg campaign sounds unfazed. Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg's top strategist, tells Axios: "Mike will defend his record of doing more to address issues of concern to Democratic voters than anyone else in the race."

  • Sheekey added, in what the campaign considers its trump card: "Voters are focused on electability."

But check out what Bloomberg has coming at him. In public comments and private leaks of opposition research, this is rivals' anti-Bloomberg argument:

  • He bought power and silence: He hid behind $400 million in ads to buy his way to second place — after spending billions of dollars to ingratiate himself with would-be critics.
  • He was crude and sexist: The N.Y. Times and WashPost unloaded detailed investigations of sexist language and behavior. The WashPost reported a lawsuit by a former Bloomberg LP saleswoman: "She alleged Bloomberg told her to 'kill it' when he learned she was pregnant," which she interpreted as "have an abortion to keep her job." Bloomberg denied that under oath and reached a confidential settlement, per the Post. The campaign said: "Mike simply does not tolerate any kind of discrimination or harassment."
    • Business Insider reported: "[N]early 40 employment lawsuits from 65 plaintiffs have been lodged against Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg personally in state and federal courts since 1996, the majority of which deal with discrimination over gender, race, and disability status, as well as pregnancy discrimination and wage theft."
    • In a sign of what other campaigns say is a sign of how much more is to come, BuzzFeed News yesterday dropped a story with the headline: "Bloomberg Once Again Called Transgender People 'It' And 'Some Guy Wearing A Dress.'" A campaign statement said: "Mike understands that the transgender community has been under attack ... [D]uring his first year as mayor, Mike signed a sweeping transgender civil rights bill."
  • When he was New York mayor, the city's stop-and-frisk policy targeted black and Latino people. Bloomberg told a black church in Brooklyn in November: "I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong."
  • He has Cheney-like authoritarian instincts: He called the NYPD the "seventh largest army in the world," and was part of Muslim-targeting in the years after 9/11. [Corrected] "I think people, the voters, want low crime," Bloomberg told the N.Y. Times in an interview in 2018. "They don’t want kids to kill each other."
  • He censors and silences media. He owns one of the largest media companies in the world, with his journalists under orders not to cover his "wealth or personal life." After he announced, Bloomberg News journalists were told in an internal memo: "We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike (and his family and foundation) and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries."
  • He coddled China for business reasons. Bloomberg told PBS' "Firing Line" in September, during a discussion of climate, that Xi Jinping "is not a dictator — he has to satisfy his constituents or he's not gonna survive." Michael Forsythe, one of the top journalistic diggers in Hong Kong, left Bloomberg News in 2013 and later joined the N.Y. Times, where he's now an investigative reporter, after Bloomberg News sat on an exposé about financial shenanigans by the regime, because of fears that Bloomberg would be expelled from China. Bloomberg editors said the article wasn't ready.

👀 Watch Joe Biden tonight: The former vice president has easily the most incentive to go after Bloomberg.

  • Each is competing to be the Electable One; Biden was hacked off that Bloomberg promised not to run against him and then did; and, unlike the others, he has no interest in his money — or a job in his administration.

Axios' Zachary Basu contributed reporting.

Go deeper

Warren launches at Bloomberg: We can't "substitute one arrogant billionaire for another"

Bloomberg in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 19. Photo: Bridget Bennett/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth at Wednesday's Democratic debate painted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the same kind of racist and sexist that Democrats have repeatedly accused President Trump of being.

What she's saying: "I'd like to talk about who we're running against. We're talking about a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump, I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg."

Bloomberg's historic bust

Mike Bloomberg waves to supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Super Tuesday. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Never in American history has a presidential candidate spent more to get less than Mike Bloomberg, making his buy-a-nomination bid a big bust. 

Why it matters: Bloomberg spent $600 million to win as many states as every American who chose not to run: zero. (He has American Samoa to show for it.)

What to watch in the Nevada debate

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Cengiz Yardages and Mario Tama/Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg's wealth will fuel rather than shield him from tests and attacks when he makes his Democratic primary debate debut on the stage tonight in Las Vegas.

The state of play: Bernie Sanders is still the front-runner. So the other candidates must weigh which of the two presents a bigger threat to their viability: Sanders, with his combined delegate, polling and grassroots momentum? Or Bloomberg, with his bottomless budget?

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy