The billionaires hit the panic button


Bill Gates (left) and Michael Bloomberg hold a press conference to announce their charitable support for a global anti-smoking initiative on July 23, 2008, in New York City. PHOTO/Chris Hondros via Getty Images

Bill Gates is thinking about voting for Donald Trump, while Mike Bloomberg intends to vote for himself.

Since early summer, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been drawing huge crowds to their rallies, dominating the televised debates, and setting fundraising records with support exclusively from small donors. Most importantly, their surging popularity stems from their plans to dramatically expand the federal government, paid for in large part through a wealth tax. This populist turn has the rest of the Democratic presidential field scrimmaging for what’s left — namely, the support of the party’s super-rich.

The problem for all of the candidates ? from Sens. Cory Booker to Kamala Harris to Amy Klobuchar ? is that what makes billionaires swoon makes 99% of the country furious. As a result, nobody has come close to matching Sanders and Warren’s collective appeal. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg remains in the realm of respectability, and former Vice President Joe Biden continues to float on name recognition, but neither candidate looks like a solid winner. With the rest of the gang mired in the single digits, the super-rich are beginning to panic. First, billionaire Tom Steyer and now, fellow plutocrat Michael Bloomberg decided to abandon the kingmaker facade altogether and get in the race themselves.

Their desperate bids for the presidency make one thing crystal clear: The 2020 Democratic primary is a referendum on billionaire control of the Democratic Party. At least we can all stop shadow-boxing with the word “moderate.”

Bloomberg has no better chance of becoming president than Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO who assembled a campaign operation in January and gave a few disastrous interviews before quietly abandoning his quest. His prospects are also no better than those of ultra-millionaire John Delaney (D-$232 million), who has been steadfastly campaigning in futility in Iowa all year. Bloomberg may well accomplish nothing more than siphoning a few points away from Buttigieg and Biden, ultimately bolstering the very candidates he hopes to crush, namely Sanders and Warren.

But the fact that so many super-rich folks are even trying to get into the primary has surfaced a long-brewing contradiction at the heart of the modern Democratic Party, one that’s made the party uniquely vulnerable to President Donald Trump’s buffoonish demagoguery. Most Democrats think of themselves as champions of the little guy. We’re the party of working people and people of color. The Republicans, we like to tell ourselves, are the party of the rich ? silver-spoon 47%-bashers like Mitt Romney and racist rentiers like Trump. 

That story papers over the fact that both parties have courted and favored America’s super-rich, over and against the interests of the rest of the country.

Sure, there are differences. Republican politicians will defend any lowlife whose bank book is big enough, from payday lenders to Wall Street CEOs. Democrats, by contrast, court nicer, more progressive-seeming elements of the super-rich. Harvey Weinstein, for instance.

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