Thought exercise: What would you do with $500 million and change?
If you’re vain and pretty sure your kids will never make you proud, you could have an entire mini-quad’s worth of buildings named after you at a university full of students who aren’t silver spoon fuck-ups. If you’re a proponent of reproductive and women’s health, you could give that money to Planned Parenthood and almost equal the amount the organization gets from the federal government every year. If you’re sporty, you could find another billionaire and the two of you could go halfsies on buying the Jacksonville Jaguars. You could probably throw a couple Coachellas and buy everybody who attends a big floppy hat. A nice hat, with a stretchy liner inside the brim.
Or, if you’re former New York City Mayor and billionaire to an astonishing degree Michael Bloomberg, who’s said he wants to give away all of his $60-billion-plus fortune before he dies, you could burn $500 million on a vanity presidential run, and you could appear miserable for every second of it.
Tuesday morning, Bloomberg was still talking a big game as his name would be on the ballot for the first time in the race that he crashed late. As the Super Tuesday results rolled in, it was clear that Bloomberg’s campaign wasn’t headed toward the Democratic nomination, at a split convention or otherwise. The third and fourth place finishes piled up, and Tuesday evening came word that the former mayor was heading back to New York to “reassess” his campaign. Wednesday, he suspended his campaign and backed Joe Biden.
Wall Street, like America’s other two worst industries of real estate and entertainment, runs on bluster. To an extent, so does politics. But all the bluster that money could buy wasn’t enough to win over Democratic voters. Democrats being the party Mike Bloomberg left to run for mayor of New York, where he spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2004 and where police stopped people some 5 million times while he was in office—and rejoined with the idea that he could spend his way into the party’s nomination.
For the half billion dollars he spent on his vanity campaign, pushing up ad prices for and sucking up political talent from other national and local Democrats, Bloomberg could have made the beloved 2019 film Knives Out 12 times over. He could have revitalized the WNBA. He could have probably bought New York City’s iconic Plaza hotel back from the Qatari shell company that currently owns it. He could have—I think I covered it.
Point is, Bloomberg could have done things that might have been fun for him, or fun for others. Instead, he got roasted in two debates, killed what must have been a whole Alberta hillside’s worth of trees to make the fliers that choked the mailboxes of Super Tuesday state voters for the last couple of weeks, and stood there looking as though he was dealing with very uncomfortable abdominal gas at his own rallies. The man has successfully combined laughing and wincing in a way that he should probably trademark. I’ve never seen anything like it.
To be fair, Bloomberg won American Samoa, which makes him the winner of more primary contests than Amy Klobuchar (and, until last week’s South Carolina primary, current presumptive eventual nominee Joe Biden. What!). But for $500 million, Bloomberg could have bought every one of the 55,000 or so residents of American Samoa a decent used car, which is probably a lot more valuable than the satisfaction one gets from the knowledge that your territory assigned its DNC delegates to Mike Bloomberg.
What was Mike Bloomberg? Why was Mike Bloomberg? By the end of Super Tuesday, it was pretty clear that all that money may as well have been spent on a series of bonfires in the shape of a middle finger and large enough to be seen from space. (That might have actually been funnier than most of the memes Bloomberg’s enormous staff was paid handsomely to post to Twitter. Hire me, Mike Bloomberg!)
Are there more important political stories on this Super Tuesday than dunking on Mike Bloomberg? Absolutely. The baffling rise of Joe Biden after an uninspiring and blundering campaign is something people will scratch their chins over for a long time. I’m watching cable pundits struggle to explain it right now, from my California couch, and it makes no sense.
The gradual erasure of Elizabeth Warren from the conversation has also been a bizarre development in a year of bizarre developments; the fervency of her fans was at one point the subject of an entire episode of The Daily. Just last week, she was second in some national polling. Two-and-a-half weeks ago, when Bloomberg took the debate stage for the first time, she dismantled him and punctured the aura of inevitability he’d spent all that money to present. And then, suddenly, it was as if The Media had a big Media meeting and agreed that they wouldn’t be talking about Elizabeth Warren anymore, around the same time that some on the left decided that Warren remaining in the race was selfish and that the votes people in Super Tuesday states were going to cast for her rightfully belonged to Bernie Sanders. Tuesday, she lost Massachusetts to Joe Biden.
Yes, those stories are more important. But they’re also cloaked in so many layers of establishment fear, outsider paranoia, and general confusion that it’s going to be months if not years before anybody comes close to touching the truth. So instead, let’s focus on something that we all can agree on: Michael Bloomberg had a terrible fucking time.