Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

In Defense of Mike Bloomberg

A grown-up, not a dilettante.
March 4, 2020
In Defense of Mike Bloomberg
This guy. (EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images)

1. El Bloombito

Unlike some of my colleagues, I was never terribly down on the Bloomberg candidacy.

I wasn’t especially bullish on it, but as hedge against a total Biden collapse? Not the craziest idea ever.

Did Bloomberg’s campaign wind up causing Biden some pain? Sure. Without Bloomberg on the ballot yesterday, Biden’s showing would have been even more overwhelming. But that’s the thing about insurance policies: You have to pay for them. The idea is that you sacrifice a little here and there on the off-chance that catastrophe comes later.

Who else did Bloomberg hurt? Some people argue that he froze the field and blocked Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar from building momentum and taking off. But I don’t buy that. Politics is about building coalitions and after almost a full year of campaigning, neither Mayor Pete nor Klobo was able to build a coalition. I don’t think their numbers in Nevada or South Carolina would have been appreciably different absent Bloomberg.

And Bloomberg did hold to his initial promise to focus nearly all of his spending on Trump. He never went hard negative against Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or any of his Democratic rivals.

So at the end of the day, did he waste half a billion dollars? I guess?

I mean, that’s one way to look at it: Mike Bloomberg set $500 million on fire and finished with nothing to show for it and $500 million is a very large amount of money.

But there’s another way to look at it: Mike Bloomberg bought an insurance policy for the Democratic party. He paid for it out of his own pocket and while the cost was more than you or I will ever make in our lifetimes, it was not as exorbitant as it seems. It was, for instance, only a fraction of the cost of building a football stadium, and its societal utility was far greater than half a Jerry World.

All things considered, my view is that Bloomberg’s candidacy was more patriotic than narcissistic. And I respect him for doing it.

2. The Silent Majority

I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve been told that Joe Biden was toast because (1) he didn’t draw big crowds; (2) there weren’t a lot of bumper stickers for him on cars, or (3) the number of lawn signs people saw for him were really small.

Those markers are not dispositive.

If a candidate’s coalition is broad enough, then the importance of voter intensity diminishes.

Joe Biden’s coalition—from the start—has been: African-Americans, blue-collar union members, and college-educated suburbanites (especially college-educated women). In a Democratic primary, that’s close to total dominance. The only leg of the stool Biden didn’t have was progressives.

Seen in this way, Biden represents a fusion of the Obama and Clinton coalitions from 2008.

You may not remember this, but Obama’s campaign was powered by African-Americans and progressives, and as he picked up steam he added college-educated whites. Hillary Clinton fought Obama nearly all the way to the convention with a coalition that was mostly union members and working-class whites.

So Biden took the Obama coalition and traded just the progressive wing for basically the entire Clinton coalition.

If all you have is progressives, then it doesn’t matter how much they love you or how often the tweet or how many of them will come out to see Public Enemy.

Anyway, that’s the story of the primaries. The story for the general election is likely to be similar. Never forget that Trump drew giant rallies around the country in 2018 while Democrats flipped the House with boring candidates you’d never heard of.

3. The Sandlot

I’m going to keep linking to stories from the Athletic until every last one of you subscribes:

The tickets were a Christmas gift, and Megan Gannon offered her dad a few different options. Charlie Gannon thought about it. He liked the ones two rows off the field, right near the Phillies’ dugout. He hadn’t seen Joe Girardi in more than 20 years. He figured this could work.

So, on Sunday afternoon, the Gannons sat and watched a Grapefruit League game.

“I didn’t bother him until about the eighth inning,” Charlie Gannon said. “I knew the starters had gone out and the substitutes were in. I knew he was still checking them out, but he had loosened up a little bit.”

Gannon, in between innings, yelled.

“How’s East Peoria doing?” the 68-year-old said, loud enough to catch Girardi’s attention.

“Oh,” Girardi replied, “it’s good.” That is when Megan saw an opening. She had to verify if the stories she’d heard her dad tell again and again were true.

“Do you remember Charlie Gannon from East Peoria, Illinois?” she asked Girardi.

“At that point, Joe’s face was kind of confused,” said Megan, a TV news reporter for WFLA in Tampa. “He was trying to put the pieces together. He was like, ‘Charlie, you mean like my Little League coach? My neighbor?’ I was pointing at my dad. You could see the wheels turning. No way. There’s no way.”

And, just like that, it was 1970 and the East Peoria boys were back on Oakwood Avenue. . . .

He was 6 years old. Charlie Gannon was 18, and he dated Debbie, the girl who lived next door to the Girardis on Oakwood Avenue. There was a big yard near the house. A bunch of neighborhood kids — including Girardi’s older brothers, George and John — wanted to start a baseball team.

Gannon was going to Eureka College and already knew what he wanted to do with his life. “I wanted to be a coach,” he said. “That’s what I went to school for. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since I graduated from Eureka in ’73.” So he agreed to coach the East Peoria boys — as long they could gather some equipment. . . .

Gannon has tracked Girardi’s career ever since. He last saw him in 1998 — maybe 1999 — when Girardi was still playing. They briefly spoke during a spring training game. This time, Girardi wanted more time to talk.

“I hadn’t seen him,” Girardi said. “I was shocked. It was awesome. I give him a big hug. I mean, he was my first coach. And he took care of me because I was the youngest on the team. I was like the little kid, like Squints. He protected me. He made sure I got to play.”

Girardi invited the family — Charlie, his wife Sue and Megan — to meet him in the lobby of the team’s offices at Spectrum Field after the game. Someone directed them there and they waited. Girardi emerged from the clubhouse. He showed the Gannons photos of his three kids. Life had come full circle.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.