Don’t be silly. How can mega-billionaires like Michael Bloomberg or Howard Schultz ever connect with a populist-minded segment of voters? The entire idea sounds … er … more than vaguely familiar.
It might present a bit more of a hurdle among the progressive populists than it did for Donald Trump in 2016, NBC News points out:
But does anyone on the left want a candidate from the private sector as their nominee at a time when some in the party are running hard against big business, corporate greed and Wall Street?
Entering the cycle, three billionaires appeared poised to seek the presidency: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Forbes estimated his wealth at over $46 billion); Starbucks founder Howard Schultz (Forbes pegged his riches at $3.3 billion); and ex-hedge fund chieftain and impeachment activist Tom Steyer (Forbes ball-parked him at $1.6 billion), who has since removed his name from contention. …
If any of the mega-wealthy potential candidates “look like they’re running simply because of their own ego or they like their names in lights, their candidacy will never get out of the gate,” Jesse Ferguson, a high-ranking staffer on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, told NBC News.
But, he added, if any candidate can “present an authentic, believable antidote to Trump,” they can resonate with voters.
Er, suuuure. The party that brought us Bernie Sanders and his soak-the-rich class warfare is suddenly going to find “authentic, believable” voices from — checks notes — a Wall Street titan and a globalist who crushed local coffee houses over the last generation. Nothing says “Occupy Wall Street” and “Down with the One Percenters” like nominating a couple of corporate multi-billionaires, especially the man whose fortune derives from Wall Street trading.
Schultz retired from Starbucks a couple of years ago, purportedly to assess his chances in the upcoming presidential cycle. He’s about to go on a book tour, which might test his ability to generate political rather than commercial interest. Democrats didn’t learn any lessons from Hillary Clinton’s book-tour fiasco in 2013, but the Washington Post reported over the weekend that Schultz might be looking at an independent run anyway. And he might have company:
Advisers to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz have been exploring the possibility of launching an independent bid for the White House in 2020, according to two people who have been informed of the discussions.
The entry of a high-profile billionaire Democrat outside the traditional party structure would add an unpredictable dynamic to the increasingly sprawling campaign to deny President Trump a second term.
Trump’s opponents, including many Democratic strategists, have expressed concerns that a serious three-way race in November would divide the Democratic vote in a way that helps Trump win reelection, either directly by denying Democrats states they would otherwise have won or by shifting the ultimate decision to the U.S. House.
Former Ohio governor John Kasich, a 2016 Republican candidate for president, is also looking at the possibility of running as an independent candidate. Neither Kasich nor Schultz have settled on a decision.
A Kasich independent bid would peel off almost zero votes from Trump. Anyone inclined to vote for Kasich wouldn’t be voting for Trump in the first place. Unlike Schultz, Kasich lacks the resources for a 50-state independent campaign, so it would be nothing more than a stunt campaign at best. Schultz could fund a true outsider campaign, but only if he’s prepared to part with a significant portion of his net worth to do so. And even then, Schultz would likely play no better role than H. Ross Perot’s vote-splitting performance in 1992, only this time among Democrats.
Bloomberg’s more cagey than that, but we’ve spent a lot of years watching Bloomberg’s Hamlet routine, too. If he does run this time, Politico’s Marc Caputo reports that Bloomberg will likely take aim at the Democratic nomination by making gun control and climate change the heart of his campaign:
Bloomberg plays a dominant leadership role on two of the top issues on the minds of progressives heading into the 2020 cycle: climate change and gun control. He’s spent a decade as the nation’s preeminent financier on those issues, buying considerable goodwill in progressive circles. If he runs, those familiar with his thinking say, they’ll be the pillars of his campaign.
No successful presidential campaign has ever been anchored to those issues. But the politics surrounding climate change and gun control have changed dramatically in recent years, and nowhere more than in the Democratic Party. In a splintered field where the former New York mayor’s message would be reinforced by a theme of governing competence and private sector success, those close to him believe Bloomberg could find traction despite his seemingly awkward fit. …
At 76 years old, Bloomberg probably has one last chance to have a reasonable shot at the White House. And insiders are keenly aware that a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat will struggle in a party that’s drifted leftward. Also, the billionaire financial tycoon who saw Occupy Wall Street erupt in his city in 2011 when he was mayor will have some explaining to do to a party that’s concerned about wealth disparity.
But in a crowded Democratic primary where everyone moves left, the centrist, self-funding billionaire could have enough money and voters to sustain a long campaign that could last until the 2020 convention.
There’s also hope that, if Bloomberg runs, his activism on guns and climate will mute some of the incoming he would otherwise get from the left. So might the fact that he contributed an estimated $110 million to help 21 Democratic congressional candidates win in November.
“Bloomberg’s kind of money buys a lot of loyalty — or at least silence,” said one top Florida Democrat. “Anyone else would be toast.”
Bloomberg also can spend a lot more of his own personal wealth in the next cycle, with a total net worth around 17 times that of either Schultz or Trump at $51 billion. The problem, though, is that Trump’s wealth was only a small part of his appeal. It was Trump’s status as a relative outsider — a man who never ran for office, who never took part in Beltway politics — that made the connection with disenfranchised voters outside the urban/academic bubbles of the Democratic Party. Yes, Trump’s wealth and self-aggrandizement got him noticed, but his attitude (for better and worse) is what made his political identity.
Bloomberg, on the other hand, has been and remains an ultimate insider. He pulls strings on Wall Street and in Washington, which is no small accomplishment and no evil in itself. But he’s still an insider of the kind that populists love to loathe, even when they’re taking his money. Schultz might actually be the better bet, but he’s not very distinguishable from the litany of Democratic presidential hopefuls except for not having held any political office at all.
Besides, why go for Bloomberg or Schultz at all when progressives can have Bernie or Kamala Harris? The problem for the mega-billionaires in this cycle is that there are too many choices, not too few. They can choose authentic class warriors, rather than those who rent the identity when it suits them.