Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the Democratic primary race following disappointing Super Tuesday results to endorse current frontrunner Joe Biden. And while the multi-billionaire has remained active in presidential politics, his failure presents a lot of lessons for future moguls to learn when entering politics.
Bloomberg’s very presence in the campaign inspired a very cynical attitude from critics. After all, he was a very late entry. He wasn’t even on the ballot in the first slew of primary voting contests. Never the less, he remained a viable and visible voice, thanks primarily to the gargantuan campaign budget he was able fund himself.
Apparently, you can’t buy the White House the same way you can buy industries.
On February 24th, Bloomberg.com wrote, “Through Friday [Feb 21], he’s spent $505.8 million on broadcast, cable, radio and digital ads, according to Advertising Analytics. That’s an average of $5.5 million a day since he officially became a candidate. It’s also $190 million more than all of his active Democratic rivals combined, including billionaire hedge-fund founder Tom Steyer, have spent on political ads.”
Dumping all of this money in the the Democratic Party’s political machine didn’t erase America’s memory. Bloomberg is infamously responsible for a number of food and beverage bans in New York, and has direct connections to the serious attempts that have been made to criminalize gun ownership in Virginia. Anyone with a marketing background will tell you that this is a bad look. More savvy politicians understand that generating voter support doesn’t have to cost the GDP of a small country.
You may recall Howard Dean, a presidential candidate running against George W. Bush in 2004. Most people who remember him probably only remember the triumphant scream which killed his candidacy. This was an awkward moment that the media used to make him look ridiculous. What few people do remember is that he ran a grassroots social media campaign and was a serious contender as a result. He did not buy his way into a leading position in the race — he created an organic movement by reaching out to people online.
Dean skirted the normal channels, and it should have been a lesson to establishment characters like Bloomberg. Of course, we had the victory of Donald Trump, who also skirted the normal channels, using instead his own money and his uncanny ability to bait the media into covering his campaign. Remember, Trump only keeps one dollar a year of his presidential salary. He gives the rest to charity. This absolves him of any leverage the system itself might have over him.
So, enter Bloomberg. He has seen the effect of people like Dean and Trump. But instead of dog-earing those pages in history, he says, ‘I’m just going to spam the TV airwaves with political attack ads.’
This was seen as absolute madness. It also shows that he learned nothing from the fact that Trump won due to the power of citizen journalism to get around the establishment communication channels. Bloomberg spent all his money to buy ads for television. People who are serious about politics don’t watch TV news anymore — or at least not as much as they once did. Rules that applied just a few short years ago have changed.
Bloomberg’s epic fail could have been avoided by learning from the mistakes of others. But of course, we know, when the only tool you have in your toolkit is a massive bank account- everything looks like it’s for sale.
The big takeaway here is that billionaires don’t always make savvy politicians — at least if their strategy is to just throw money at anything that moves.