By David K. Shipler
Michael Bloomberg’s tone-deaf paralysis in the Las Vegas debate puts a boldface question mark behind the growing assumption among many Democrats that only he can defeat President Trump in November. One debate fiasco might matter little in the end, given that many more people are seeing the flood of Bloomberg TV and internet ads. And maybe he’ll do better next time. Still, 19.7 million viewers watched his first. But if he gets the nomination, voters will see him extensively, out from behind his screen of commercials. He could use a serious makeover.
His advantage is his money: his generous philanthropy on the liberal side of such issues as gun control and climate change, his decisive contributions to Democratic candidates, the networks of loyalty that he has purchased in cities throughout the country, and his extensive campaign organization. He knows how to direct his dollars effectively, and his ex-Republican centrism will surely appeal to moderate Republicans who are disaffected with Trump.
Yet voter turnout is crucial, and that depends largely on a candidate’s appealing demeanor, vision, and forward-looking agenda. Trump has built a wall of zealotry. To break through it, a Democratic opponent needs a surge of young and minority citizens moved by passion and belief, plus a middle-spectrum of voters in swing states. Right now, Bloomberg looks like nothing more than the candidate of last resort. That’s not enough to drive enough people to the polls.
There is a sharp hunger in the land for decency. There is a thirst for honesty, candor, authenticity—all traits that Trump supporters mistakenly attribute to the president. Depending on which citizens you ask, the country is impatient for reform and afraid of it, welcoming and resentful of demographic diversity, idealistic and cynical about politics in America.