Michael Bloomberg & 2020 Election — Democrat’s Folly?

Michael Bloomberg hosts a kick off for “United for Mike” in Miami, Fla., January 26, 2020. (Maria Alejandra Cardona/Reuters)

Michael Bloomberg’s campaign has been more successful than many thought possible when he jumped into the Democratic primary very late in the process. What could have been a laughingstock is now merely a longshot.

He is now effectively tied for third place in the latest Morning Consult poll of states that will vote on Super Tuesday (March 3):

Biden 28%
Sanders 24%
Warren 14%
Bloomberg 13%
Buttigieg 6%

Ramesh Ponnuru writes that there’s a non-trivial chance Bloomberg could be the last man standing against Bernie. And Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics is on the same page: “I made the case for Bloomberg previously, and continue to believe that he is running the best campaign that Michael Bloomberg can run. He’s getting some traction in the national polls, and if Biden stumbles in Iowa and Bernie Sanders looms large, the former New York mayor could quickly become a player.”

So the Bloomberg candidacy is not farcical. But if the former New York mayor’s primary rationale for running is stopping a far-left Democrat from winning the nomination, the continuation of his candidacy does look a little bit crazy.

Politico reported back in November when Bloomberg launched his campaign:

In God we trust. Everyone else bring data.

That’s New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s longtime motto. And it explains how, six months after he was a definite “no” on running for president, he’s apparently changed his mind again.

The data that reportedly persuaded Bloomberg to run was Biden’s poor polling in Iowa and New Hampshire. “He liked Biden. He’s been surprised at Biden’s implosion,” a former Bloomberg aide told Politico.

But the data Bloomberg relied on didn’t actually show a Biden “implosion;” the polls showed a temporary dip. Between August and November, Biden dropped ten points. On November 6, the FiveThirtyEight average of polls showed the following in Iowa:

Warren 19.7
Buttigieg 18.2
Sanders 16.8
Biden 16.6

But the race between Biden and Sanders in Iowa is now a tossup. As of Wednesday, the FiveThirtyEight average of Iowa polls showed the following:

Sanders 22.3
Biden 21.8
Buttigieg 16.3
Warren 13.9
Klobuchar 9.3

With five days to go until the caucuses, Sanders now has a 38 percent chance and Joe Biden has a 36 percent chance of winning the most votes in Iowa, according to the FiveThirtyEight model.

Wouldn’t a cold-eyed businessman solely interested in keeping Sanders from winning the nomination look at this data, drop out, and endorse Biden? Wouldn’t the data-driven play be to throw a few million bucks into Iowa for Biden — a tiny fraction of what Bloomberg has spent on his own campaign — in order to stop Sanders?

That move wouldn’t guarantee a Sanders defeat, but it seems like a much more likely way to stop him than some last-ditch #NeverBernie campaign waged by a billionaire who is not allowed on stage at Democratic debates because of DNC debate qualification rules requiring a large number of small donors.

Biden is now polling well enough in Iowa that his campaign will almost certainly make it to South Carolina on February 29, where he has a decent chance of winning even if he loses Iowa and New Hampshire. (In 2016, Hillary Clinton edged out Sanders by 0.3 points in Iowa, lost New Hampshire to Sanders by a big margin, and then came back to crush Sanders in South Carolina on her way to winning the nomination.)

And if Biden makes it to South Carolina on February 29, that pretty much guarantees he will be competing three days later on Super Tuesday. So by running himself, Bloomberg may have missed the opportunity to stop Sanders in Iowa and may end up splitting the Super Tuesday vote with Biden.

Bloomberg reportedly wants to simply stop Sanders from getting a majority of pledged delegates, but it will be incredibly difficult to deny the nomination to any candidate who has a significant plurality of pledged delegates.

With all of that said, if Bloomberg cares more about his own small chance of becoming president than stopping Sanders, then his candidacy makes sense. But if his true goal really is stopping an avowed socialist from being the Democratic 2020 presidential nominee, the continuation of his candidacy may simply reveal that no one — not even businessmen who have earned $60 billion — is immune to the sunk-cost fallacy.

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