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.

How a Tweet Got Me in Trouble

Almost two months ago, in early August, I wrote a tweet that generated plenty of reaction – little or none of it positive. New York Post Columnist Salena Zito even used it to write a column about how reporters view working-class voters.

The only problem is that Salena, like others, took the tweet completely out of context and therefore didn’t understand what I meant.

The tweet – “Lots of people can’t support themselves or speak English in West Virginia” – certainly could sound like a gratuitous shot at West Virginia or at the less educated and less affluent. But not if you knew the context.

Here is what happened:
I often “live tweet” Donald Trump’s rallies and speeches, and that’s exactly what I was doing on August 3rd. (When there is a significant live event, I see Twitter as a communal activity, as if a bunch of people are sitting around, watching a sporting event and making comments about it.)

Usually, I quote the president, but sometimes I simply offer a comment or response to something he says, figuring those watching along with me will get my point. Twitter allows only 140 characters, after all, and it’s difficult to quote a lengthy sentence and also add a comment.

In this case, my “controversial” tweet followed Trump’s comments about immigrants and his plan to restrict their entry into the United States.

Here is what the president said at his West Virginia rally: “Our plan favors applicants who can speak English, who can support themselves financially, and who demonstrate valuable skills that will strengthen our economy.” (You can see the speech and audience reaction on a C-SPAN video at about 38 minutes into his speech.)

 

As soon as Trump uttered those comments, I turned his words around and tweeted “Lots of people can’t support themselves or speak English in West Virginia.”

My point, of course, was that many of the people at that rally, and in the state, are not all that different from the immigrants hoping to come to the United States.

The president was talking about excluding people who might need a government handout in a state where many also need a government handout. (West Virginia ranks 48th in household personal income.) And Trump was prepared to discriminate against immigrants who don’t have command of English in a state that ranks 42nd in percentage of high school graduates.

The irony of the situation apparently was lost on Trump, his supporters at the rally and many who read my tweet, including too many who had no idea what the president had said or how my tweet played off his remarks.

My Twitter mistake was in not understanding that people might read my tweet without knowing how and why it came about. For some, of course, even understanding the context of the tweet wouldn’t matter. They simply wanted to find some reason to be offended and outraged, a hook on which to hang their virulent anti-Semitic insults.

I will try to be clearer in the future when I tweet, but anyone who uses Twitter knows that it is impossible to make a serious argument in 140 characters. The platform simply is not suited for that. I try to be entertaining (often using sarcasm) even when I point out hypocrisy or make a political point, and I do not expect that will change. So, my advice to anyone following my tweets: Follow along and lighten up.