Last March, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, founder of the eponymous financial data company that made him the sixth-richest billionaire in America, disappointed a lot voters looking for a thoughtful candidate who gets things done without scandals or bloviating.
In an op-ed in Bloomberg View, the opinion machine that weighs in on a wide range of issues, he declared that running for president was, as the headline said, “The Risk I Will Not Take.”
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His reasoning was that as a third-party candidate, he might siphon off enough electoral votes to throw the choice of president to Congress.
“As the race stands now, with Republicans in charge of both Houses,” Bloomberg wrote, “there is a good chance that my candidacy could lead to the election of Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz. That is not a risk I can take in good conscience.”
Bloomberg went on to say that while he has had a casual friendship with Trump – and even appeared on “The Apprentice” twice, the real estate mogul and reality TV star “has run the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people’s prejudices and fears. Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, appealed to our ‘better angels.’ Trump appeals to our worst impulses.”
On Wednesday night, Bloomberg is scheduled to speak at the Democratic National Convention, and while it is not known whether he will endorse Hillary Clinton, he almost certainly will try to take down Trump. They are both billionaires who live luxuriously in New York and they both seem to think that they know best, but that’s about all they have in common.
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In the pantheon of people who are really loaded, Forbes puts Bloomberg at No. 6 in the U.S. and No. 8 in the world, with a fortune estimated at $47.6 billion (Trump is ranked No. 113 in the U.S. and No. 324 in the world with $4.6 billion).
But besides shelling out tens of millions of his self-made dollars to get elected and re-elected in New York, Bloomberg doesn’t constantly remind people how wealthy he is, as Trump likes to do.
While Trump’s gilded tower on Fifth Avenue and his incessant rich-guy showboating surely offends the Boston-born Bloomberg’s New England sensibilities, there is much more about The Donald and his whole rhinestone circus that must get Bloomberg’s chilly blood boiling.
There are those “New York values” that Senator Ted Cruz once derisively accused Trump of holding dear – though not so dear that he hasn’t laid them aside to court the yahoo vote. Bloomberg, on the other hand, seems to genuinely believe that there is strength in diversity.
“Threatening to bar foreign Muslims from entering the country is a direct assault on two of the core values that gave rise to our nation: religious tolerance and the separation of church and state,” he wrote in March. “Attacking and promising to deport millions of Mexicans, feigning ignorance of white supremacists, and threatening China and Japan with a trade war are all dangerously wrong, too. These moves would divide us at home and compromise our moral leadership around the world. The end result would be to embolden our enemies, threaten the security of our allies, and put our own men and women in uniform at greater risk.”
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A trade war with China and other countries would also be bad for the business of Bloomberg LP, which leases its financial-data terminals to firms around the world. And as countries become more financially sophisticated, the more their financial sectors need up-to-the-minute data from Bloomberg or Reuters.
China especially is a frequent Trump target.
Bloomberg LP, on the other hand, seems quite concerned with not making waves in Beijing. In 2014, a Bloomberg reporter was fired and an editor resigned over allegations that the executives at the company suppressed a story for fear it would make China angry and harm business.
And Trump’s off-the-cufflink populism, threatening to rescind or renegotiate big trade deals and bring jobs back to America, runs directly counter to a world without barriers to free trade that Bloomberg seems to espouse.
In a commencement address at the University of Michigan in April, Bloomberg said, “In 1928, Republicans promised a ‘chicken in every pot and a car in every backyard.’ They won control of Congress and the White House, and a year later, instead of a chicken and a car, we got the Great Depression.
“Today, when a populist candidate promises free college, free health care and a pony, or another candidate promises to make other countries pay for our needs, remember: Those who promise you a free lunch will invariably eat you for breakfast.”
Bloomberg may not be an electrifying speaker, but Trump should be worried that the billionaire at the next table is about to spit in his soup.