Mike Bloomberg exits the 2020 stage, backs Biden

When Elizabeth Warren embarrassed Bloomberg on a debate stage in Las Vegas, it helped change the trajectory of the entire election cycle.
Image: Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg departs after addressing supporters at his Super Tuesday night rally in West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 3, 2020.Marco Bello / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg considered a presidential campaign in 2008. And 2012. And then again in 2016.

As we've discussed, in each instance, things didn't quite work out for the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, though he kept thinking about this possibility. Exactly one year ago tomorrow, Bloomberg conceded that he wouldn't win in 2020, either. "I believe I would defeat Donald Trump in a general election," he wrote in column announcing his decision not to run. "But I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field."

In November, however, Bloomberg saw an opportunity. Joe Biden appeared to be faltering; Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were ascendant; and the former mayor believed he could pick up the mantle as the electable "centrist" candidate. Around Thanksgiving, the billionaire threw his hat into the ring and began spending at a clip unseen in American history.

As the dust settled on Super Tuesday, Bloomberg's gambit had clearly failed. This morning, he exited the stage.

Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor who jumped into the 2020 presidential race late and spent over $500 million on an unorthodox campaign, has ended his bid for the Democratic nomination.

"I've always believed that defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it," Bloomberg said in a statement. "After yesterday's vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden."

All of this comes roughly 36 hours after the former mayor said he would not end his presidential campaign, which was true until it wasn't.

As recently as last month, Bloomberg appeared to be on a very different trajectory. He'd picked up a striking number of congressional endorsements; polls showed him moving into the top tier in national Democratic surveys; and in some circles, the idea that he'd be the party's "moderate" alternative to Bernie Sanders suddenly didn't seem ridiculous.

All of which leads to the first of three notable lessons. First, presidential primary debates really can be critically important. Let's not forget that Bloomberg was reasonably well positioned, right up until Elizabeth Warren embarrassed him on a debate stage in Las Vegas. It now appears that this single event helped change the trajectory of the entire election cycle.

Second, the end of Bloomberg's ambitions serve as a reminder of the limits of money. The former mayor spent a half-billion dollars in an exceedingly short period of time, which was enough to make him a contender, but it wasn't enough to buy the nomination or voters' support. As this relates to the health of our democracy, that's probably good news.

And third, I've long been fascinated by the phenomenon of "white knight" candidates, who jump into big races late, and who invariably cause a stir as an exciting new thing, but who end up losing. Bloomberg can take some comfort in the fact that he has some company in this category.

Looking ahead, the billionaire's candidacy may be over, but we haven't necessarily heard the last of him -- or at least his resources. Bloomberg has said that if his campaign fell short, he'd remain engaged in defeating Donald Trump, even keeping his staff in place and his campaign offices open as part of a year-long operation.

Bernie Sanders, who definitely remains in contention, has made clear that he wouldn't want Bloomberg's financial support in the general election. But as Joe Biden takes on the roll of the new frontrunner, it's likely the Delaware Democrat would welcome Bloomberg's aid in the coming months.