The importance of the last-minute entry of Michael Bloomberg into the presidential race (he only decided to commit to the race because one of the first state filing deadlines was rapidly approaching) is immense: his campaign has the potential to upend not only the Democratic primary, but possibly the very fabric of American democracy. He could force both parties to completely rethink how they structure their primaries, and all of us as voters to reconsider the relationship between candidates and the media.

While it’s easy to compare Bloomberg’s candidacy to that of fellow New York billionaire Donald Trump, in fact they don’t really have that much in common. Trump and Bloomberg share some similarities, to be sure: both have a significant media presence, short political resumes, and have found homes in both parties or as independents in years past.

However, while Trump also entered the race relatively late compared to other candidates in 2015, it wasn’t nearly as late as Bloomberg is this time around. That allowed Trump the luxury of running a relatively traditional campaign, qualifying for the debates with his memorable one-liners, raising money, and pressing the flesh in the early states. Although he spent more than $65 million of his own money on the race, Trump never even tried to entirely self-fund his campaign, instead raising money from a mix of small and large donors much as prior presidential candidates had.

Bloomberg seems committed to completely breaking that mold by entirely self-funding his campaign: he says he won’t be taking any donations whatsoever. Usually, politicians like to brag about about how many small donations they have, as it demonstrates grassroots support. Indeed, Democrats have structured their entire primary around grassroots fundraising, making it a qualification to be in the debate – so at least we’ll be spared from hearing Bloomberg’s lecturing on a debate stage. Elsewhere on television, though, he will be inescapable: he’s already spent tens of millions on TV ads.

Besides just being able to spend endlessly, Bloomberg’s wealth lets him pick and choose the states in which he wants to compete. Most campaigns, even those of presumed frontrunners like Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton, focus plenty of resources on early states like New Hampshire and Iowa. That’s because usually even major candidates can’t afford to instantly launch a 50-state national campaign – they have to build up to that point, and to wisely allocate their limited resources.

Bloomberg, though, can campaign early in states that vote later in the primary calendar, where nobody else is yet spending any time or money. If he begins to sway voters in those states, that could create a kind of reverse momentum in some of the earlier states – or set him up to perform very well on Super Tuesday. Bloomberg isn’t the first presidential candidate to skip the early states, of course: his predecessor as New York mayor Rudy Giuliani staked his entire presidential campaign on Florida. For Giuliani, that was a desperate last stand; for Bloomberg it’s a brand-new model that could result in the first truly national primary campaign. If that approach becomes the new normal, it could make it even harder for less well-off candidates to compete in the future.


Another concerning aspect of Bloomberg’s candidacy is his ownership of a major national news outlet, Bloomberg News. After he announced his presidential campaign, Bloomberg News decided that they would cease all investigative reporting on the Democratic presidential candidates while continuing to investigate Trump. This was exactly the wrong approach to take, as it opened Bloomberg News to accusations of bias – which feeds directly into conservative views of the mainstream media. Rather than halting their investigations of Democratic candidates, Bloomberg News should have announced that they’d continue their coverage fairly and that Michael Bloomberg was stepping down from the company during the campaign. That would have both enhanced Bloomberg News’ credibility as an outlet and given Michael Bloomberg a nice way to contrast himself with Trump.

For all the concerns about Trump breaking democratic norms, Bloomberg wouldn’t be any better in that area –  just wealthier and more liberal. He’d be the richest person ever elected president, able to pump millions into elections to enact his agenda all over the country. Bloomberg might say that his wealth means he can’t be bought, but all that means is that instead he’d be doing the buying. When that purchasing power is combined with the powers of the presidency, it becomes a terrifying prospect for our democracy.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: jimfossel

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