If George W. Bush and Barack Obama ushered in the return of the imperial presidency, Trump represents a further devolution toward the imperious presidency. There was an audacity in Obama’s pen and phone, and there was an expansive theory of executive branch autonomy spearheaded by former Vice President Dick Cheney. Trump’s contribution has been more vulgar, more direct, more New York: “I dare you to stop me” mixed with “I can say anything I want.”
Bloomberg’s manners are more refined, but only just. There’s the locker room talk about women, which he pre-emptively apologized for in advance of his presidential run. Trump may troll people about seeking a legally proscribed third term, but Bloomberg actually went there, changing New York City law near the end of his second mayoral term in order to run for a third, and then switching it back soon after winning. As The New York Times noted dryly upon the latter occasion, “Bloomberg thinks that being able to serve three terms in office is a good idea—just not for anyone else.”
Bloomberg’s above-the-law demeanor might seem preferable to Trump’s appetite for corruption, but their approaches to how the law applies to the lowly are distressingly similar. To Trump, constitutional limits to executive power are speed bumps slowing down his policy goals, especially concerning immigration. To Bloomberg, policy ends can justify means that judges have explicitly ruled unconstitutional.