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Bloomberg's (barely) coded warning to Democrats

Bloomberg's (barely) coded warning to Democrats

March 12th, 2019 by Tribune News Service in Opinion Columns

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stunned many Democratic insiders by announcing Tuesday in an op-ed that he would not be seeking the presidential nomination. Just a month or two ago, I'd talked to a very well-placed Democratic strategist who was certain he would run and almost certain he would win.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. To his credit, Bloomberg assessed the Democratic landscape and concluded that it just wasn't realistic given how crowded the field already is, never mind how crowded it's likely to get.

For those of us who know Bloomberg's history, the sudden attack of humility was somewhat surprising. After all, he's a guy who thought nothing of demanding a third term in office and has never shied from telling New Yorkers how he thought they ought to live—what not to drink, what not to eat, what not to drive and what not to smoke.

For someone of his inherent hubris—indeed, he acknowledges that he is "exactly what our country needs in a president" and insists he could defeat President Trump in a general election—his decision to nonetheless forego a run is telling.

And in between the lines of his op-ed are some stark messages to Democrats who would do the opposite. Decoding Bloomberg's warnings isn't hard, but you have to want to see it. Whether the dozens of Democrats running or thinking of running for president will is anyone's guess.

His first message, and it's the most important, is that the primary may prove fatal for Democrats. "We cannot allow the primary process to drag the party to an extreme that would diminish our chances in the general election and translate into 'Four More Years.'"

This is pretty straightforward: If Democrats try to out-left one another in the primary, Trump will win a general election. But this presents a real conundrum. The urge to line up behind Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's extremist policies like abolishing ICE and a kooky Green New Deal will be hard to resist. It already has been; even Amy Klobuchar, the so-called "moderate" of the bunch, hit the brakes on abolishing ICE but said she'd vote yes on AOC's Green New Deal resolution, even as she considered it merely "aspirational." To all but the farthest-left, that was not a rebuke.

Bloomberg's next message to Democrats: Stop pandering.

"[Voters] want someone who levels with them, even when they disagree, and who is capable of offering practical, sensible, and ambitious ideas—and of solving problems and delivering results," he writes.

Democratic candidates shouldn't be afraid to piss off their base now and then. Ultimately, voters respect a leader who's principled and pragmatic, not one who tells them what they want to hear. Is free college for all unaffordable and unrealistic? Say so. Is replacing air travel with trains impractical? Say so, bluntly. Are your big ideas expensive? Just admit it.

Another hidden message from Bloomberg? You'd better have proven yourself.

One line sums it up: "I know what it takes to run a winning campaign."

That could be a shot at the group of potential candidates who are fresh off losing campaigns, including Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Stacey Abrams, former minority leader of Georgia's House of Representatives. Or it could be his way of telling candidates who have no shot to take a hike. Either way, the message is clear: This s—t's hard, so you'd better know what you're doing.

Finally, Bloomberg says "our only real hope for progress lies outside of Washington." While he's acknowledging that Trump and Republicans in Congress will likely impede the progress Democrats want to make, he's also issuing a final warning to Dem candidates: Do not promise that Washington can solve every problem. It isn't believable and it isn't a winning idea.

That could also be telling Democratic voters to give outsider types—governors, businesspeople, etc.—a hard look.

Bloomberg's realistic approach to the election is refreshing. It's also full of good advice to the opposition party, if they're willing to hear it.

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