I was struck by a Mike Bloomberg tweet responding to President Donald Trump Thursday morning.
Trump tweeted: “Mini Mike is a 5’4” mass of dead energy who does not want to be on the debate stage with these professional politicians. No boxes please. He hates crazy Bernie and will, with enough money, possibly stop him. Bernie’s people will go nuts!”
To which Bloomberg responded: “We know many of the same people in NY. Behind your back they laugh at you & call you a carnival barking clown. They know you inherited a fortune & squandered it with stupid deals and incompetence. I have the record & the resources to defeat you. And I will.”
Bloomberg adviser Tim O’Brien had his own response to the president’s attack on the former New York mayor: “Translation: I’m a gelatinous pile of greed and revenge fueled by low-boil resentments, burning insecurities, an empty wallet, and constant reminders to myself that my dad was self-made while I was born with a silver foot in my mouth. Where’s my cheeseburger?”
The Trump tweet is nothing out of the ordinary, but the responses were.
Democrats have been bemoaning Trump’s language and style for years now, complaining that he is vulgar, crude and undignified. He is all those things, of course. But hand-wringing about checks and balances, the power of an unbridled executive, the independence of the judiciary, the Founding Fathers and the role of the attorney general is one thing. Taking on Trump by calling him a fool, a liar, a fraud and an uneducated clown who failed in business is entirely something else.
Many Democrats are looking for a fighter, someone who won’t fold like a cheap deck of cards. The responses Thursday by Bloomberg and O’Brien demonstrate a different approach than that followed by most or all of the other Democratic hopefuls.
That is: Don’t ignore Trump or simply complain about his behavior. Mock him, belittle him and fight back on his lies.
Risks and rewards
Of course, this approach has risks. One Twitter follower responded that “much of the world is suffering from ‘Trump fatigue.’ They want inspiration and maturity not more name-calling.”
And Michelle Obama famously urged Americans to respond with dignity, with her “When they go low, we go high” comment.
Both of those views are thoughtful and understandable. Most Americans don’t want to engage in trash-talking and demeaning an opponent. Most of us were taught to be gentle with others, to encourage people to be kind and dignified. Disagreements shouldn’t degenerate into mean-spirited attacks and rudeness.
How has that worked out so far? While the Democrats are following Marquess de Queensberry rules, Trump is playing by the “rules” of WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment.
I’m not suggesting the Democratic presidential hopefuls adopt Trump’s language or his mendaciousness. They shouldn’t attack their Democratic colleagues the way Trump attacks them. Bloomberg certainly hasn’t.
But when Trump attacks, they ought to fight back, just like Bloomberg and his team are doing. They should fight fire with fire, or as some have put it, “You shouldn’t go to a knife fight with a nail file.”
I’ve been skeptical about Bloomberg’s chances and remain so.
He has plenty of assets and liabilities as a Democratic candidate. But I’m at least a little less skeptical after seeing his counterpunching when attacked by Trump. Polls show that Democrats are “angry” with Trump, and a take-the-gloves-off approach has its appeal.
Bloomberg has serious potential in the Democratic race because he has the financial resources to answer Trump’s attacks — but also because he seems to have the will to do so.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters may never embrace Bloomberg because he is wealthy, and we’ll certainly have to see how the Democratic race unfolds with at least a handful of serious contenders still in the race after New Hampshire.
But Bloomberg’s aggressive style just might help make him a top-tier contender — and those billions don’t hurt either.
Note: This column appeared initially in Roll Call on February 14, 2020.