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Democratic presidential candidates are doing a bang-up job of suggesting that their differences matter more than defeating Trump. And former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preparations to enter the contest won’t help.
Let it be said that despite serious blind spots, Bloomberg was a very good and, on many fronts, broadly progressive mayor. He deserves our thanks for using his wealth to finance an increasingly powerful gun-control movement.
But it’s hard to see his winning a lot of Democratic primaries, and not just because he turned himself into a temporary Republican to get to City Hall. From the moment word went out that he was pondering a campaign for president, he sharpened the class and ideological divisions within the Democratic electorate.
Somewhere on the seventh tee, the phony populist Trump is laughing. One side of the Democratic Party is denouncing its foes as class enemies and apologists of the rich. The other argues that champions of the left will destroy the American economy. Is this how Democrats want to spend the next few months?
Bloomberg might usefully notice that the two candidates most elated by the prospect of his candidacy are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). A multi-multi-billionaire is the foil Warren and Sanders dream about.
Warren’s supporters are understandably angry over how the party’s Wall Street wing has recently sharpened its knives against her, especially on her wealth tax.
In fact, the wealth tax underscores how much money is concentrated at the very top of our economy. Warren is asking why the wealth of so many middle-class Americans is already taxed (homes are their biggest nest egg, and they pay real estate taxes every year), while the holdings of the very rich often never face a levy. Perhaps her wealth tax will need to be reconfigured in the form of higher taxes on the capital gains, estates and transactions of the most fortunate Americans. Nonetheless, she has already transformed our thinking about how the government should raise money.
Medicare-for-all is similarly helpful, putting fundamental change on the agenda and making clear how moderate Obamacare is by comparison. But as my Post colleagues Ruth Marcus and Catherine Rampell pointed out last week, Warren’s heroic efforts to explain how it would work highlighted its vulnerability to both substantive and political attacks.
Democrats have the high ground on health care now. In Kentucky’s race for governor, Democrat Andy Beshear demonstrated that even Trump voters want to save and build on the Affordable Care Act. Why throw away this advantage? All Democrats should support universal coverage, but we can get there, as other countries have, through mixed public-private systems. Arguments over Medicare-for-all would make sense after we finish the initial work of covering everyone.
When it comes to former vice president Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Bloomberg’s actions can be seen as a vote of no confidence. It’s true that Biden, shall we say, hasn’t lived up to the hopes of his supporters. Buttigieg has yet to solve his problems with the African American community.
But Bloomberg’s support for stop-and-frisk policing will hardly make him more popular than Buttigieg among black voters. And polls suggest that in South Carolina and Nevada — the states that vote after Iowa and New Hampshire, where Biden is in trouble — the former vice president is hanging on. In the meantime, Buttigieg is surging in Iowa. Bloomberg could thus be a spoiler for the candidates he is closest to ideologically — without winning himself.
But here’s the larger issue: Democrats need a leader who can remind progressives and moderates that they have far more in common than their current strife would suggest. These competing camps agree on the urgency of ousting Trump, but also on getting health insurance to everyone, moving forcefully on climate change, acting humanely on immigration, defending civil and voting rights, and pushing back against growing inequality.
The person who rises to the task of pulling these sides together will deserve the nomination. Will one of these candidates even audition for the part?