If Wednesday night’s Democratic debate didn’t kill Michael Bloomberg’s electoral chances, Donald Trump’s lieutenants have an idea for how to do the deed should the former mayor make it to the general election.
The president and his political henchmen are preparing a full frontal assault on Bloomberg that leans heavily on leveling racism and sexism allegations against him. Much of what Team Trump has been gunning to slam Bloomberg for—including allegations his business faced for mistreatment of women in the workplace, and the unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policing program he championed as mayor—could boomerang on the president himself. Trump has been personally accused by numerous women of sexual assault and has vociferously supported stop-and-frisk policing in the recent past.
Trump’s campaign and White House staff know they risk charges of hypocrisy. They just don’t care.
“Why not?” said one senior Trump campaign official, when asked if it was wise to go after Bloomberg for things that could easily boomerang onto the president. “It ends up being a [net] positive for us.” Another person familiar with Team Trump’s internal deliberations on this matter added that the former New York City mayor’s “baggage” on this would also likely be great for depressing Democratic turnout, particularly with young voters, should Bloomberg win the nomination.
As Trump campaign officials and people familiar with internal, preliminary deliberations see it, going after Bloomberg on these fronts would be a surefire way to tamp down liberal voter enthusiasm and amplify fissures within the Democratic Party if Bloomberg were to be its nominee.
That’s a big if right now. Bloomberg has climbed steadily in the polls on the back of an audacious and unprecedented advertising blitz. But his debate performance on Wednesday night was uneven at best and self-imploding at worst—undone, largely, by the very type of attacks that Team Trump is ginning up for a general election contest.
The billionaire and former New York City mayor faced a barrage of criticism from a variety of his fellow 2020 contenders, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” Warren said. “No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump—I’m talking about Michael Bloomberg.”
The Massachusetts Democrat later added, “We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against. That’s not what we do as Democrats.”
Bloomberg’s deer-in-headlights response to those attacks was widely panned, with Trump campaign advisers remarking to The Daily Beast in real-time how badly he was getting savaged.
“Bloomberg is lethal [for Dems in a general-election],” said Barry Bennett, a Republican operative and lobbyist who served as a senior adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign. “Hard [for him] to be the anti-Trump… Even standing on his wallet he just doesn’t measure up. His campaign is all about ego and hubris. No amount of money can defend or deflect his past positions and mouth.”
While officials on Team Trump say they never expected Bloomberg to perform well on the debate stage, and are waiting to see, for instance, if Wednesday night has an effect on his poll numbers before completely writing him off as a possible general-election rival, others are giddy about the prospect of running against him. Among the beliefs they share is that the opposition-research file on Bloomberg could be potentially the thickest of anyone’s in the 2020 Democratic field, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
The only question is whether Trump’s own record could complicate their plans.
The president has repeatedly and publicly endorsed stop-and-frisk—which numerous criminal justice reformers and advocates have called out for being racist and ineffective at stopping violent crime—and has even called for taking the policy nationwide. And yet that did nothing to stop President Trump from labeling Bloomberg a “TOTAL RACIST!” after 2015 audio resurfaced this month of the ex-mayor defending racial profiling and the policy.
Unlike Bloomberg, meanwhile, Trump isn’t merely accused of harassing behavior or making lewd or degrading comments. Numerous women have come out over the years to go on the record to accuse the president of harassment and sexual assault. Multiple women have even accused him of rape or attempted rape. For years, the official position of the Trump White House has been that all of these women are simply lying or not telling the truth.
That Trump’s aides would simply breeze past his own history in attacking an opponent on these fronts represents yet another case study in the degree to which the president operates openly in bad faith and has determined that charges of political hypocrisy simply don’t matter for much of the electorate in modern politics.
Over at the White House, senior staff haven’t been shy about taking these shots, either, and in doing so they have suggesting that the misogyny accusations against Bloomberg are somehow worse than the myriad misconduct allegations leveled at Trump. When asked by Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday, Trump’s White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said that a recent Washington Post story on Bloomberg—chronicling dozens of women’s allegations of sexist and misogynistic comments—is “fair game,” and that Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” Access Hollywood tape was old news that had been “fully litigated” during the 2016 election.
Conway also insisted that Bloomberg’s reported comments are “far worse” than any of her boss’s, including the famous one where Trump explicitly brags about sexually assaulting women.