Bracing for a billionaire bloodbath: Why Bloomberg could make things difficult for Trump — and for America

Michael Bloomberg is weighing an independent bid for the presidency. Should we take him seriously?

By Heather Digby Parton


Published January 26, 2016 6:18PM (EST)

Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg   (AP/Reuters/Brendan McDermid/David Becker)
Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg (AP/Reuters/Brendan McDermid/David Becker)

Shockwaves ran through the political world over the weekend as the New York Times reported news of yet another billionaire throwing his hat into the presidential race:

Buoyed by the still unsettled field, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is growing increasingly enchanted with the idea of an independent presidential bid, and his aides are aggressively laying the groundwork for him to run.

Oh sorry, my mistake. That was the earthquake of January of 2008, when the New York Times reported that Bloomberg had his aides aggressively laying the groundwork for him to run. This is the article from this past weekend:

Michael R. Bloomberg has instructed advisers to draw up plans for a potential independent campaign in this year’s presidential race. His advisers and associates said he was galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side. [...]

Bloomberg, 73, has already taken concrete steps toward a possible campaign, and has indicated to friends and allies that he could be willing to spend at least $1 billion of his fortune on it, according to people briefed on his deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his plans. He has set a deadline for making a final decision in early March, the latest point at which advisers believe Mr. Bloomberg could enter the race and still qualify to appear as an independent candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

Yes, former mayor Michael Bloomberg is threatening to enter the presidential race to give America a real choice. Again. After all, the only people running are a billionaire Bond villain from New York, a handful of current and former governors, a gaggle of former and sitting senators, and a former secretary of state. A super-billionaire former New York mayor is sorely needed to save us from this motley offering.

Bloomberg is obviously anticipating a billionaire throw-down with his fellow plutocrat Trump but it appears he is also sending a warning shot to the Democrats to be very careful with all this socialist talk or he might have to hit their candidates with a few hundred million dollars in attack ads.

(This is how the minds of our brilliant would-be presidents think these days. They are willing to spend millions to save themselves hundreds of thousands.)

If it comes down to a portfolio measuring contest, The Donald comes up very short. His fortune is nothing to Bloomberg's:

According to an average of estimates provided by two independent firms, Bloomberg is worth nearly nine times Trump. Forbes estimates place Bloomberg's net worth at $36.5 billion, making him the ninth richest man in America. Wealth-X, the independent research firm, puts his net worth at $42.1 billion.

Trump's wealth is a little more contentious. Forbes says he's worth $4.5 billion, while Wealth-X pegs him at $4.4 billion. Bloomberg News, which does not tabulate Bloomberg's wealth, tallied Trump's net worth at $2.9 billion.

In July, that calculation prompted Trump to say the organization vastly undercounted his fortune because the former mayor was "jealous."

Not that the The Donald believes that Bloomberg's as rich as everyone says either:

He claims to be thrilled to welcome Bloomberg into the race, but it's obvious that would create yuuuuge problem for him. After all, his entire rationale for running is that he's the best man for the job because he's so rich and so successful. If there's another guy in the race who is (at least!) nine times richer and also has political experience, well it's going to be pretty hard to make that claim. Wouldn't that guy be nine times better at making America great again?

To the extent that Trump is running on any specific issues at all, our two potential billionaire overlords do not see eye to eye. The biggest difference between them is probably on gun proliferation. Bloomberg is a leader of the gun safety movement and has put his money where his mouth is. Trump is a big believe in gun rights, frequently bragging that nobody will ever mess with him because he has a concealed carry permit. He pantomimes shooting people all the time while on the stump even saying this past weekend that he was so popular he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and he wouldn't lose followers.

As Mayor of New York Bloomberg also called for comprehensive immigration reform and it's no secret that that's not what Donald Trump has in mind, favoring his big beautiful wall and deportation force. But they could find some meeting of the minds on the tracking of Muslims, if not Trump's draconian ban on all Muslims. After all, Bloomberg defended the NYPD's controversial terrorism policies when he was mayor.

There isn't much else of any substance in Trump's agenda beyond making America great again and having so many victories they'll be coming out of our ears, so it's difficult to say where else they might differ. But it's fair to say that any campaign between the two of them would be very, very ugly. One can imagine Trump raging about Bloomberg being a liberal and a soda Stalinist, not to mention some dark insinuations about the former mayor's religion. (He made them about Ben Carson and Ted Cruz's, after all.) Who knows how Bloomberg would respond? All we know is that he has an immense war chest and is willing to use it.

It is estimated that Bloomberg spent around $650 million on his campaigns for mayor and various pet causes during his tenure, more than any self-financed politician ever. While Trump has bragged that he was willing to spend a billion on his campaign, he has notoriously spent almost nothing. Even his long awaited ad buy, in which he promised to spend 2 million per week, has not fully materialized. So far he hasn't needed to spend the money, but if a rival billionaire with unlimited funds decided to blitz the airwaves, would he feel compelled to compete?

This is all idle speculation of course. It's not impossible for Bloomberg to get on the ballot as an independent in all the states but he's going to have to work fast. But again, he could hire an army of people to get it done if he wanted to. He has such an immense pile of cash there's no reason for him to be stingy.

Still, it does seem unlikely that we could end up with another billionaire in the race. After all, Citizens United anticipated they would simply finance politicians to do their bidding, not take the reins themselves. And Bloomberg has threatened to run for president for many years and never did it -- but then so did Donald Trump and look where he is now. It's entirely possible that rather than being "worried" about the alleged extremists in both parties and feeling that he needs to offer the country his special brand of moderate centrism, Bloomberg is simply feeling competitive with his fellow New York fat cat.  He probably always assumed that he would be the historic first billionaire president in American history. Is he going to let the clownish Donald Trump be the first to crack the gold ceiling?

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Gop Primary Michael Bloomberg