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Bloomberg vs. Trump would be a clash of oligarchs


The number one priority of Democrats in 2020 is to beat President Trump. But their second most pressing goal must be to keep Michael Bloomberg from becoming the person who gets to try and eject him from office in November.

I'm no Marxist and don't usually don't find class-based analysis especially compelling. But this is an exceptional case. The president of the United States is a billionaire businessman from Manhattan, and a rival billionaire businessman from Manhattan is using vast sums of his personal wealth to buy the opposition party's nomination for president so he can take the other billionaire down. That's bad. Really bad. If we saw it happening in another country, we'd say it shows that the country is a place where politics at the highest levels amounts to a popularity contest between feuding oligarchs. And we would be right.

Now I don't mean to imply that Trump and Bloomberg are interchangeable in every respect. If you held a gun to my head and told me I had to choose between the two, I'd go with Bloomberg in a heartbeat. Unlike Trump's silver-spoon start and decades-long run of bankruptcies, Bloomberg's bio — from humble beginnings to one of the richest men on the planet — is genuinely impressive. Bloomberg also has many more years of experience in public office than Trump did in 2016, and his record as mayor of New York City for 12 years vastly outshines Trump's shambolic three years in the White House.

Yet thankfully, no one is going to force me or anyone else this election season to pick between these two bad options. We have a much broader choice, and there are very good reasons for Democrats to choose someone — really, anyone — other than Bloomberg.

One superficial way in which the two men resemble each other is in preferred political style. Trump personalizes everything. He likes nothing better than singling out enemies for abuse and hurling insults at them on Twitter. Bloomberg has responded to this tendency by running a campaign that's … singularly focused on Trump, with hundreds of millions of dollars in ads blasting the president day and night in major media markets across the country. There's no positive agenda to speak of. It's just anti-Trump propaganda 24/7.

True to type, Trump has responded by taking personal aim at Bloomberg, dubbing him "mini Mike" to mock his diminutive stature, calling him a "LOSER," and comparing him unfavorably to "Jeb 'Low Energy' Bush," Trump's favorite antagonist from the early days of the 2016 GOP primary contest. In reply, Bloomberg gleefully stoops to Trump's insult-spewing level, but with an important difference: He notes that he and Trump "know many of the same people in N.Y.," and they like to mock him behind his back, calling him a "carnival barking clown." The message is plain: We're both fabulously wealthy New York socialites, but my clique is cooler than yours.

To cheer on such juvenile taunting between billionaire playground bullies is to contribute to the further transformation of politics into a pro-wrestling match — the vulgarest form of substanceless entertainment. But it's also to forget that every person who's tried to beat Trump at this game, from Little Marco Rubio on down, has failed. No one out-slums the political slumlord residing in the White House. That's especially true for Democrats, who (aside from the party's tiny Michael Avenetti wing) actually care about upholding and exemplifying standards of public integrity.

But the similarities in campaign style are nothing compared with the shockingly long list of parallels between Bloomberg and Trump-style Republicans on policy and broader sensibility.

Bloomberg thinks that teacher unions use students as a "ploy" to allow them to spend all their time protecting criminals and sex offenders.

On race, he's defended the controversial "stop and frisk" policy that was implemented during his mayoralty by saying in a 2015 speech that the police are perfectly justified in going into minority neighborhoods to "throw them against the wall and frisk them." He also indicated during the height of the financial crisis that he thought the cause of the economic meltdown was the elimination of "redlining," the policy that made it more difficult for people living in minority neighborhoods to secure mortgages and other bank loans.

When it came to responding to the Great Recession, Bloomberg strongly opposed efforts to impose new financial regulations, calling them "stupid laws."

On foreign policy, the similarities between Bloomberg and Trump may be even more striking. Both men supported the Iraq war before they turned against it. Both men favor a very soft line against Russia. And both make a habit of praising authoritarian leaders and policies — with Bloomberg going quite a bit further than Trump in supporting a highly accommodating approach to China.

And then there's their shared admiration for George W. Bush and support for his re-election effort against Democrat John Kerry in 2004. (Bloomberg endorsed Bush that year, offering warm words for the president and his campaign from the stage of the Republican National Convention.)

Last but not at all least, there is their strikingly similar views on gender issues and equity — including the making of frequent offensive comments about women's appearance and intellectual capacity, fostering workplaces marked by flagrantly misogynist culture, and the widespread use of non-disclosure agreements in the settling of lawsuits with former female employees over hostile work environments.

Oh, and don't forget that while some of us worry about whether Trump might indulge his authoritarian proclivities by seeking to stay in office beyond the end of a second term, Bloomberg already did exactly that, strong-arming New York's City Council into changing its term-limits law in 2008 to allow him to serve a third term.

All of it sounds downright Trumpian.

Except it's probably more accurate to say that what it really is — all of it — is an expression of the shared outlook of New York City's billionaire masters-of-the-universe overlord class.

America should be able to do better than swapping one oligarch for another. It better be able to do better than that. It's up to Democratic voters to prove it.

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