Mike Bloomberg’s free-spending campaign rollout has rocketed him into assertion for the Democratic nomination — but he now faces a challenge immune to his fortune.
The multi-billionaire is one poll away from qualifying for the nationally broadcasted debate in Las Vegas Wednesday night, and if he doesn’t clear that threshold he’s almost certain to make it into the South Carolina faceoff Feb. 25. Either setting threatens to lay bare one vulnerability his asset cannot guard against: Himself.
The former New York City mayor’s irritability with questions he deems unwarranted and controversies he feels he has already put to bed could undermine his debut on the debate stage, where Americans will be introduced to the man behind the ubiquitous campaign ads.
His contenders, who have been piling on in recent days, will try to rattle him by assaulting his record, campaign aides have told POLITICO. His own crew was concerned that an unsteady depicting alongside practised nominees could stall his momentum and swallow his gains.
“We are expecting that he is going to have a lot of attention on him — he’s going to be attacked, ” a Bloomberg official told POLITICO , noting that it “couldve been” his first debate since 2009. The official, who declined to speak on the record, pointed to the other candidates who’ve had months of practice in eight debates and several meetings and “have gotten better as it’s gone on.”
So Bloomberg has invested weeks getting ready.
“You are familiar with; I like a fight and so I think it’d be fun to go and compete, ” he said in an interview in Detroit earlier this month. Likening it to his sometimes contentious press conferences during his 12 times as mayor, he added, “I always thought that was fun to joust.”
Top Bloomberg lieutenants and plan experts have been preparing him for what would be the most unscripted occurrence yet of his three-month-old campaign. As the prep conferences have ramped up, increasing in frequency, his crew is working to get him to project consolation and equanimity in the line of flaming, while portraying him as the toughest Democrat to take on Donald Trump.
Howard Wolfson, the ex-serviceman Democratic strategist who joined Bloomberg’s orbit in 2009 after working on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential race, is playing the role of Bernie Sanders; Julie Wood, Bloomberg’s national press secretary, is imaging Elizabeth Warren; and senior consultants Marc La Vorgna and Marcia Hale are stand-ins for Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, respectively.
Wolfson joked that his inspiration for Sanders came from watching “Statler and Waldorf, ” the cantankerous elderly Muppets who lob critiques from their balcony seats. Asked about challengers trying to get under Bloomberg’s own skin, he quipped, “Haters gonna hate. Bring it on.”
Bloomberg is trying to hone a crisp and energetic appeal to voters that will contrast with Biden — another white-hot, male septuagenarian on stage, according to advisers.
Other potential pitfalls for Bloomberg are his tendency to use dated speech — terms like “bawdy, ” for instance — to dismiss very concerned about his fiscal news service’s work culture for female employees.
Bloomberg has a history of losing his cool in public. He formerly grew visibly bothered at a reporter in a wheelchair who interrupted his press conference when he declined a recording device. More recently, he recommended a reporter to “get on with it” when he was pressed about his controversial stop-and-frisk policing tactic.
Snapping at other nominees or a moderator is likely to prejudice his efforts to convey empathy and contrition.
“He’s been super underwhelming on the stump so far.[ I] envision people ascertaining him up close; he could suffer from a little’ Biden syndrome.’ Namely, he’s not as impressive when he’s not induced and he’s also pushing 80, which nobody seems to be talking about, ” said New York-based political consultant Neal Kwatra, who is unaffiliated in the Democratic presidential primary. Bloomberg simply turned 78.
Cracks formed in Biden’s saw frontrunner status when he was caught off guard on the debate stage. And while Bloomberg does not share Biden’s specific helplessness, he brings his own, Kwatra noted: “He’s impatient, he gets ornery and he’ll get annoyed.”
“Most of “the two countries ” is hearing a capable industrialist with short, sweet, pithy ads bombarded all over TV and the internet and there’s a certain brand that’s already rose, ” Kwatra said. “At this stage of the game anything that belies that or undercuts that, it’s dangerous.”
One long-time Bloomberg aide, former deputy mayor Dennis Walcott, described a more compassionate side of the businessman.
“I’ve seen the term read in conjunction with him as technocrat and everything else and yes,’ Mike will get it done, ’” Walcott said in an interview, in reference to the campaign’s theme of competence above all else. “But also I know[ he has] that deep passion around issues … and I think that’s important for people nationally to hear.”
Bloomberg is coming under increased investigation lately for policing rules as mayor that disproportionately affected black and Latino men and for a corporate culture that was the subject of lawsuits from women at his company, Bloomberg L.P. His lavish spending has also triggered renewed attacks from challengers who pretension he’s trying to buy the nomination.
There’s another question of how he manages debate optics. He’s already been ridiculed by Trump over his height, sidetracking Bloomberg’s team into the sandbox where they pilloried the president’s weight, mane and skin hue. On Monday, Bloomberg opened a brand-new front against Sanders and his supporters, comparing their online tactics to Trump’s.
The fact that Bloomberg isn’t competing in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday and South Carolina primary the following week leaves little in accordance with the rules of immediate payoffs for him. “I think he should let Buttigieg and Klobuchar run their course, ” said John Zogby, the Democratic pollster.
But his advisers stressed that voters expect and even challenge that he appear if he qualifies.
“He has to do it, ” one of them said.
Before the Democratic National Committee removed the donor threshold to allow him to qualify purely based on public polls, Bloomberg said he wanted to debate, even as he lamented the “pre-canned sound bites” they generate and dismissed the tradition as little more than scripted TV theater.
That may be true. But with a harsh spotlight taught on his past, Bloomberg will have to show he was able to perform
“Sixty billion dollars can buy you a lot of publicize, ” Biden said in a weekend interview on “Meet the Press, ” referring to Bloomberg’s estimated net worth, “but it can’t erase your record.”
Read more: politico.com