Feb 18, 2020

On Refusing to Vote for Bloomberg

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg is attempting to buy the Democratic nomination. With something like $400 million in personal spending so far, that much is clear — and it appears to be working at least somewhat well, as he is nearing second place in national polls. I would guess that he will quickly into diminishing returns, but on the other hand spending on this level is totally unprecedented. At this burn rate he could easily spend more than the entire 2016 presidential election cost both parties before the primary is over.

I published a piece today outlining why I would not vote for Bloomberg against Trump (I would vote for Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, or Biden), even though I live in a swing state. This got a lot of "vote blue no matter who" people riled up. They scolded me and demanded that I pre-commit to voting for Bloomberg should he win the nomination. The argument as I understand it is to try to make it as likely as possible that whatever Democrat wins the nomination will beat Trump.

As an initial matter, as I wrote in the article, it is not at all clear that Bloomberg would do a damn thing to stop Trump's various racist atrocities. This is a guy who turned the NYPD into an occupation force in New York's black and brown neighborhoods, who has been accused by at least 64 women of sexual harassment, and who set up a police state for New York Muslims. He is also patently untrustworthy. This is a guy who is talking a big game about "LGBTQ+ youth" when less than a year ago he was calling trans people "it" and asserting that talking about "some guy wearing a dress" was a losing issue politically.

But a lot of the people yelling at me on Twitter insisted he would still be better, howling that I am basically endorsing Trump's racist acts by not getting behind Emperor Mike. So let's stipulate the absolute best case, where if Bloomberg wins we will get a president who is like Trump in most ways that matter but marginally less horrible.

I say that would be an awful outcome. At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason to muster all possible effort to beat Trump in November is not simply to replace him with someone maybe slightly less bad — but to replace him with someone who is actually good. This country very badly needs a president (plus members of Congress, etc) who will actually try to achieve the total structural overhaul needed to undo the carnage wreaked by Trump, confront climate change, and start reversing the last 40 years of neoliberal market fundamentalism.

In a country as corrupt and unequal as ours, it takes an immense effort just to create ordinary democratic institutions, where a party leadership honestly represents their constituents instead of selling out or collecting bribes. The Democratic Party basically took the bribery route for the last generation, supporting at best crappy half-measures, or at worst selling its constituents to Wall Street, all while pointing to Republicans and saying "at least we aren't them." But as the utter catastrophe of neoliberalism has become undeniable, new institutions and candidates have sprung up to attempt to force the party to seriously live up to its rhetorical commitments.

As Tom Scocca writes, Bloomberg is trying to halt that process and stop small-d democracy from taking root in the Democratic Party. He is leveraging Democrats' fear of Trump to position himself as the "electable" candidate, and using his billions to buy endorsements or silence from Democratic elected officials, liberal think tanks, cable news hosts, and so on. (So far, it seems about half of them are openly for sale.) It is utterly shameless political corruption. His desired end goal is clearly to wrench the party dramatically to the right from where it was even in the Clinton years.

So the point of promising that I (and by extension a big swathe of the rest of the Democratic electorate) will not vote for Bloomberg is to blow up the only possible argument for his candidacy: that he could beat Trump. We are trying to force the party to actually represent its constituents — by at a minimum nominating a normal politician, not a cartoon caricature of a corrupt right-wing oligarch — instead of selling them out, again. The people who would get thrown in jail, or see their Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits cut, or killed in the wars Bloomberg would probably start, will take "at least he's not Trump" as cold comfort. Applying "vote blue no matter who" to a despicable racist authoritarian who was a Republican five minutes ago is a pathetic and contemptible abandonment of all the downtrodden people in the United States. The party could and should do better than that.

Conversely, attempting to scold people into committing to vote for Bloomberg if he wins enables his attempt to subvert American democracy. It communicates that he has the Democratic base in the bag, and hence strengthens his electability case.

But scold me all you want, my mind is made up. I will not vote for Bloomberg in November. So for all those Democrats who are laser-focused on beating Trump I'm telling you right now, in all seriousness, the leftists in this country will watch this party burn before we see it devoured by a Wall Street oligarch. Vote for literally any of the other candidates. But picking Bloomberg would be throwing the nomination away.


  1. I know there's many aspects to your argument, but I wanted to point out one section that at least needs some clarification:

    "In a 2015 speech, he said 'it's controversial, but first thing is, all of your — 95 percent of your murders, murderers and murder victims, fit one M.O. ... They are male minorities, 15 to 25.'

    These statistics are hideously inaccurate...."

    I just wanted to point out that you can actually go to the study that describes this stat. It's here (2015 version): https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/pdf/analysis_and_planning/year_end_2015_enforcement_report.pdf

    On page 1 of this report they give a breakdown for who is victimized, arrested for, and suspected of murders in NYC (but a big caveat, they don't do it by age range). If you add up the minority figures the literal stat is borne out here.

    There's tons of context that's important: is Bloomberg correct in saying that this is a reason to do stop and frisk? do these numbers look the same when we break it down by age range? are there issues with the data collection that would substantially change the numbers? Any of those could be discussed, but I would like us to make sure we lay out clearly what we are disputing.

  2. I take that Mike hasn't denounced the horribly incivil scolding by the Bloomey Boys yet?

  3. It won't be just the party burning. Do you no longer believe that climate change is an existential crisis that must be dealt with as soon as possible? Not voting for Bloomberg in this scenario would be a vote for four more years of inaction and probably outright sabotage of climate change mitigation efforts under Trump.

    For all of his many, many faults, Bloomberg at least takes climate change seriously and has put money towards that.

    1. Bloomberg doesn't really because we need a fundamental restructuring of the economic system to combat climate change. He doesn't support the Green New Deal.