Bloomberg’s Counterattacks May Just Resonate with Democrats

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.”

Aggressive style

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.

Do Democrats Need a Backup Plan?

With many surveys showing multiple Democratic hopefuls leading President Donald Trump in hypothetical 2020 ballot tests, Democrats should feel confident they can deny the incumbent president a second term. But many don’t.

In spite of the huge field, the Democratic race is muddled because of questions about Joe Biden’s campaign skills, the progressive agendas of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the difficulty in finding a nominee who can appeal to a variety of constituencies, from the party’s base to suburban swing voters to possibly even working-class white women.

A series of hiccups by Biden on the campaign trail, including in the initial debates, ought to bother party pragmatists, who correctly see the former vice president as the Democrat with the broadest appeal.

If Biden continues to stumble and his candidacy ultimately implodes, pragmatists will need to find a new standard-bearer. At the moment, there is no obvious alternative.

Sanders and Warren are both so far left that many question whether they can win suburban voters generally and college-educated voters in particular.

Warren has potentially broader general election appeal than Sanders — at least she has never embraced socialism. But she certainly isn’t a pragmatist, given her attitudes toward business and her support for “Medicare for All,” the Green New Deal and canceling student debt. While Warren has moved up in the polls, Sanders’s candidacy, which looks weaker now than it did four years ago, limits her ability to unite populist progressives.

California Sen. Kamala Harris would seem to be an obvious alternative should Biden implode, but her performance in the second debate and her shifting position(s) on Medicare/health care raise questions about her candidacy. So far, she seems unwilling to position herself as a pragmatic progressive, even though that would likely benefit her.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has had his moments in the early going, but he remains stuck in the mid-single digits in national polls, and his youth and questionable appeal to minority voters limit his prospects.

The rest of the Democratic field has an even longer road to travel. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has done well in debates but lacks charisma. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has not answered questions about his substance and heft. And Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who as much as anyone has explicitly positioned herself as a pragmatic progressive, has so far made little headway, let alone caught fire.

All of this leads to an obvious question: As late as it is in the election cycle, is there still time for someone with proven broad appeal to enter the race?

The ideal candidate

If you are a Democratic strategist responsible for winning back the White House in 2020, you would want someone smart, thoughtful and knowledgeable. You would prefer someone with Washington, D.C., experience, but not someone who is seen as “too Washington.” You would look for someone personable, charismatic and relatable. And of course, the ideal candidate wouldn’t have a lot of political baggage, thereby keeping the focus on Trump.

Finally, thinking about the primaries and the general election electorate, you’d want someone who can energize the Democratic base and appeal to suburban swing voters, particularly white women (and men) with a college degree. If he or she could also win some white, working-class voters, particularly women, that would be icing on the cake.

Add up those qualities, and one name jumps out: Michelle Obama.

No, the former first lady is not running for president, and she has disavowed any interest in doing so. But she would have plenty of assets if she did run, she might have a better chance of defeating Trump than anyone currently in the contest.

A Princeton graduate with a degree from Harvard Law School, Obama is a dynamic speaker. Empathetic and passionate, she appears sincere, authentic and dignified. It’s no wonder that she connects with so many people. Can’t you imagine her on the same stage as Trump?

The former first lady has never sought or held elective office, but that might even be an asset. Certainly, Trump proved it isn’t a requirement.

She’d benefit from her husband’s current standing. A year and a half ago, Gallup asked adults how they viewed Barack Obama’s job performance during his time in the White House. In hindsight, the survey found 63 percent approved.

recent Aug. 11-13 Fox News poll found 95 percent of registered Democrats with a favorable view of Barack Obama. Among all voters, his favorable rating was 60 percent.

Of course, the former president has some baggage, and it would be transferred to his wife. His critics would become hers, and Trump would surely run against a “third Obama term.” But given Barack Obama’s electoral performance and current polling, the 44th president of the United States would be a clear asset for his wife.

Clinton redux?

Some Democrats believe that Hillary Clinton’s loss shows that a woman can’t win. But Clinton had tons of baggage that Michelle Obama doesn’t have, and Obama could change voters’ perceptions about electability with an effective campaign and strong showing in the polls.

From an electoral point of view, the former first lady reaches exactly the audiences that Democrats need. She could turn out her husband’s voters, and she should have strong appeal in the swing suburbs and among younger and minority voters.

If the Democrats are fortunate, they’ll find that the president is so weak next year that almost any nominee with a “D” behind his or her name will win. Indeed, that’s the case right now, with Biden, Warren, Harris and Sanders all leading Trump in recent national surveys.

But, it’s difficult to count on that some fifteen months before the election.

Democrats have a large and interesting field. And yet, only Biden — or at least the Biden of 2008 — looks to have broad enough appeal to give Democrats a clear advantage in 2020. If he implodes, the party would need to look elsewhere for a standard-bearer. That person may now be stuck in the lower tier of the Democratic contest, or may have already ruled out a bid.

Admittedly, the idea that Michelle Obama would change her mind and seek the Democratic presidential nomination is ridiculous, especially late in the contest. It’s absurd. It can’t happen. In fact, it’s about ridiculous and absurd as Donald Trump running for president and winning.

Note: This column appeared initially in Roll Call on August 20, 2019.