Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off his presidential campaign on Monday here in Virginia with a blunt case: Without me in the race, President Donald Trump is more likely to get reelected.
It’s the closest Bloomberg has come to directly saying that the candidates in the current Democratic field are unable to defeat Trump. But the subtext was obvious on Monday.
“I think that there is a greater risk of having Donald Trump reelected than there was before,” Bloomberg said, reflecting on his decision to mount a late entry bid to the presidency. “And, in the end, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You just cannot let this happen.’”
Bloomberg officially announced his Democratic presidential bid on Sunday, unveiling a campaign that he said will be squarely aimed at defeating Trump and casting himself as a “a doer and a problem solver – not a talker.”
Bloomberg’s brief visit to Norfolk was an odd opening salvo to a presidential campaign, but illustrated the candidate’s approach to focusing on Trump. Norfolk is home to a naval base, and Bloomberg sought to draw attention to the departure of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who in a letter announcing his resignation suggested Trump was undermining the “key principle of good order and discipline” of the US military.
It also shows his commitment to running a strategy that has never been successful in Democratic politics before: skipping the early voting contest and focusing on states voting on March 3, or Super Tuesday, of which Virginia is one.
The mayor crammed into a booth at D’Eggs, a local café, to have decaf coffee with Nancy Guy, a Virginia delegate-elect the mayor’s political operation helped propel to a narrow victory earlier this month.
Surrounded by reporters, bewildered patrons and a few protestors urging the mayor to “go back to New York,” Bloomberg shook a few hands, took some pictures and chatted with Guy.
As brief as the visit was, it made clear that Bloomberg planned to frame his campaign as a crucial attempt to deny Trump four more years in the White House, with himself as the hero in the story.
“We may never recover from the damage that he can do,” Bloomberg said in a speech. “The stakes could not be higher. We must win this election.”
Bloomberg said he knows “what it takes to beat Trump because I already have. And I will do it again.” He spoke at length about how he used his personal wealth to fund Democratic efforts on guns and climate, telling reporters that he has “been using my resources or the things that matter to me” for years and now he is “fully committed to defeating Donald Trump.”
Asked later about his view of the Democratic field, Bloomberg pivoted back to himself.
“We have to do something about Donald Trump. I think I know how to beat him. I have beaten him a number of times before,” Bloomberg said. “I think I know what this country needs and that is what I am going to focus on.”
Bloomberg’s announcement – especially the at least $37 million worth of television advertising he has placed over the next two weeks, according to data from Kantar Media/CMAG – has led his opponents to accuse him of trying to buy the nomination.
“I understand the power of the 1%,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Monday in New Hampshire. “You’re seeing that right now, literally with Mayor Bloomberg, who has decided to use part of his $55 billion not to buy a yacht, no to buy another home, not to buy a fancy car, but to buy the United States government.”
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday also slammed Bloomberg at a campaign event in Iowa.
“I am here on day two of Michael Bloomberg’s $37 million ad buy,” Warren said in Iowa. “Michael Bloomberg is making a bet about democracy in 2020, he doesn’t need people, he only needs bags and bags of money. I think Michael Bloomberg is wrong and that’s what we need to prove in this election.”
Bloomberg plans to skip the first four nominating contests during his presidential bid, instead jumping directly to so-called Super Tuesday states like Virginia.
The billionaire backed 15 Democratic candidates in the state’s election this year that saw that state’s legislative body flip from Republican the Democratic control, according to Bloomberg’s campaign. Everytown for Gun Safety, a Bloomberg affiliated gun-control group, spent $2.5 million on those candidates in the lead up to the election.
As much as he has spent on elections, however, Bloomberg hasn’t campaigned for any office since 2009, when he successfully ran for a third term as mayor of America’s largest city.
Asked if he felt like campaigning is second nature, Bloomberg said, “If you like people, it’s a fun thing to do.” After a long pause, the mayor added, “Not every day, but most of them.”
There were a few moments of levity for the newly minted candidate, however.
After Guy introduced Bloomberg, she reached out to shake his hand before the mayor gave her a double kiss on the cheek.
Seemingly taken aback, Guy exclaimed, “How French!”