Does Bloomberg Stand A Chance?
Billionaire business entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg has entered the still long endurance run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Immediately, he predictably is garnering media attention and blizzard of pointed political attack arrows.
Naturally, his enormous wealth has become a prime target, with inclusive complaints ranging from he is out to buy nomination and election to he is out of touch with average people. The first criticism is weak, while the second may gain traction.
“Money Talks” is a durable declaration attributed to political philosopher Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy and founder of the durable East Coast political dynasty. The sentiment highlights a basic fact of life, and not just in politics. California political boss Jesse Unruh liked to say that money “is the mother’s milk of politics,” followed by very earthy references inappropriate in family news media.
Speaker Unruh, who for years dominated the California State Assembly, was nicknamed “Big Daddy,” a play-full reference to his sizable political clout as well as physical girth. A West-Coast incarnation of the Eastern political boss, Jesse collected corporate and union contributions, farmer funds and movie money in extremely large amounts.
Unruh was important to JFK’s capture of the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. However, ultimately Republican nominee Vice President Richard Nixon carried the state in the razor-close general election.
The 1960 campaign in hindsight was transitional. Jack Kennedy proved to be a brilliant public campaigner, while Joe Kennedy worked relentlessly in the background to persuade big-city bosses and orchestrate media, employing enormous sums. In the 1970s, the old-time bosses faded and primaries became dominant.
Good mothers provide a lot more than milk; some people even believe fathers are important. Likewise, in politics money is necessary but insufficient without other qualities.
If money alone bought the keys to the White House, we would have had Presidents named John Connolly, Carly Fiorina, Steve Forbes, Averill Harriman, Ross Perot, Nelson Rockefeller and others. In 2008, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts spent vast sums only to lose the Republican presidential nomination to Senator John McCain of Arizona. Romney succeeded in being nominated in 2012, only to lose to incumbent President Barack Obama.
Bloomberg vows to self-fund his late-starting campaign, which is quite plausible given his own enormous wealth. This, however, threatens to reinforce an apparent public prejudice against such strategy, and an appearance of privilege and aloofness.
He is also skipping the early tests including Iowa and New Hampshire, and gambling on Super Tuesday primaries on March 3. Insightful Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight.com notes this is precisely the approach tried by Rudy Giuliani in 2008.
Giuliani was viewed rightly as the hero of the 9/11 terror attacks, who as New York’s Mayor courageously rallied his city, our nation and the world to reject fear and stand firm. Nonetheless, the strategy backfired disastrously for him; he was decisively defeated.
Traditionally, candidates avoided early primaries hoping to maneuver into a strong position in a brokered convention. However, there has not been a brokered convention in either party since the 1950s.
Bloomberg has two potential advantages that could conceivably bring long-shot victory. First, the Democrats historically have sometimes turned to unexpected candidates, including notably former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia in 1976 and Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas in 1992.
Second, President Donald Trump’s chaotic mismanagement of government and foreign policy may make electable the man who created an enormous business and competently managed New York City.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org