Michael Bloomberg returned to the national stage last night at the Democratic National Convention to endorse Hillary Clinton for president and deliver a stinging rebuke of his former golf buddy Donald J. Trump. “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business,” Bloomberg told the overheated crowd at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. “God help us.”
“Most of us who have our names on the door know that we’re only as good as our word. But not Donald Trump,” Bloomberg said, attacking Trump as only another billionaire could.
Despite predictions of a cascade of boos for the embodiment of the 0.0001 percent by the Bernie faithful, Bloomberg was generally well-received by the arena. The crowd itself was in a pliant mood to being with. Moments before they had erupted in a frenzy over a speech by Vice President Biden. And when anti-war delegates began chiding former CIA and DoD chief Leon Pannetta for advocating for endless war minutes before, they were drowned out by chants of “USA!,” a call heard far more often at last week’s RNC.
And he reminded New Yorkers why his brand of sneering condescension was beloved by more than a few during his twelve years in City Hall: “I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!”
Bloomberg related his own political history to the Democrats, one of unapologetic partisan opportunism, where he has repeatedly swapped parties to conform to whatever was needed to win an election. While he never explicitly said so, he contrasted his own history as a unique perspective on which to judge the similar hypocrisy of Trump, who he called “a disaster in the making.”
Bloomberg was also, to a lesser extent than anything else he discussed, endorsing a Democrat for president, but as the former mayor was keen on reminding viewers throughout the speech he was really there to make sure Trump never becomes president.
“Whatever our disagreements may be, I’ve come here to say, we must put them aside for the good of our country,” Bloomberg told the crowd. “And we must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue.”
But behind his one-liners and what amounted to a tepid endorsement, it was easy to discern (even from the press section way on up high) what he was really there to tell voters: They had chosen the wrong New York City billionaire to vie for the presidency. He could have been throwing his own “Independent” convention next week in New York, if only his pollsters had been a bit more bullish on his odds back in March. If America was so into a businessman stepping into the Oval Office, why couldn’t it have been him? And why is Trump ruining it for the rest of the noble businessman of America?
“Given my background, I’ve often encouraged business leaders to run for office because many of them share that same pragmatic approach to building consensus, but not all,” Bloomberg told the audience. “Most of us who have created a business know that we’re only as good as the way our employees, clients, and partners view us. Most of us don’t pretend that we’re smart enough to make every big decision by ourselves.”
Bloomberg compared his own career with Trump’s, who has somehow managed to pass himself off as successful (and not broke) even while he’s left behind a string of bankruptcies and unpaid bills. This is quite a change of opinion from Bloomberg, whose administration gave Trump a sweetheart deal to operate a golf course in the Bronx in 2010, and vastly overpaid for his services.
Because while Trump might lack any sort of control when it comes to the words coming out his mouth, and double back on almost any position he’s ever had, the measured and calculating Bloomberg shares many of the more substantive policy proposals that his orange counterpart has touted. The main difference being, of course, that Bloomberg has wielded enough power to see some of these positions come to pass.
Trump’s insistence on the racial profiling of people of color? Bloomberg institutionalized it with the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy, which (unconstitutionally) encouraged police officers to stop young men on the street based on their appearance. Trump’s desire to keep tabs on Muslims and mosques? Bloomberg established an extensive (and unconstitutional) intelligence operation focused on Muslims in New York City and beyond. Trump’s newfound belief in school choice and local control of schools? Bloomberg wrote the playbook. And while Trump is incredibly light on actual policy proposals, he might be even more enlightened than Bloomberg on one of the most important social issues of our time. Trump has called for a $10/hour federal minimum wage, while Bloomberg repeatedly vetoed a bill that would have given all city contractors at least a $10/hour wage.
To be fair, Bloomberg and Trump do diverge completely on immigration, gun control, abortion rights, and freedom of religion. These are big differences. Bloomberg’s nanny-state tendencies diverge from Trump’s Rand-ian free-for-all. And Bloomberg kept his remarks short and to the point, avoiding any deviation from the anti-Trump message of the evening.
Even for an independent, his speech, sandwiched between the sitting VP and the VP hopeful, was still out of place. There were no “Bloomberg” signs distributed among the crowd like there have been for every other prime time speaker. There were no chants of his name. The speech wasn’t a return to the flock for this one-time Democrat, and he certainly didn’t want portray it as anything more than an alliance of convenience. Bloomberg’s centrism, always somehow to the right of the DNC, turns out to have never been far right enough for American voters.
“So tonight, as an independent, I am asking you to join with me — not out of party loyalty but out of love of country,” Bloomberg finished his speech, telling Americans to cast their votes for Clinton. To everyone in the arena, his real message was clear: In November, he was asking them to vote against Trump.