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Opinion | Let’s Talk About Bloomberg While We Still Can

Gail Collins: Congratulations, Bret. Michael Bloomberg just stuck his toe in the presidential race. I’m sure he was inspired by our last conversation in which you pleaded for a Bloomberg candidacy. I loved your argument that he had “nothing to lose except 2 percent” of his net worth.

Think it’s really going to happen?

Bret Stephens: Who knew I had so much influence? I think my public pleading may have affected Bloomberg’s decision by about 0.0000001 percent. But the poll that we published last week — the one showing Trump competitive with, or beating, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in six battleground states — surely had a lot to do with his move.

Gail: See, that’s a can-do spirit. I saw that poll and just got depressed. Some people go into a funk. Others register for the Alabama primary.

Bret: As for my political forecasts, I’ve learned over the years that they aren’t worth much more than a bag of dirt. So I have no idea whether it will work for him or not (assuming he really does run) at least when it comes to getting the nomination. Today’s Democratic Party is much more ideologically left-wing than what it was in the 1990s.

Gail: Not going to divert us with a comment on today’s Republican Party. Go on.

Bret: What I do think is that the Democratic field has been considerably enriched — pun intended — by Bloomberg’s apparent entry. His money could also help flip the Senate for the Democrats, win some governorships, and expand the majority in the House. And I think he could trounce Trump in the general.

What’s your view? Do you share my enthusiasm for the former mayor of our fair city?

Gail: Recently read a new Bloomberg biography by our former colleague Eleanor Randolph and it reminded me how good he was at his job. However, no mayor of New York City has ever been elected president.

Bret: About time. It’s one of the toughest jobs in American politics.

Gail: Couple of reservations: One is that Bloomberg does not have a whole lot of support in African-American communities, undoubtedly in part because people remember his police department’s enthusiasm for stop-and-frisk. Also, Donald Trump won the last election thanks to a perception by many average Americans that the coastal elites looked down on them. And Bloomberg is not a guy who suffers fools gladly.

Bret: Still worth remembering that Bloomberg won nearly half of the African-American vote in 2005 when he ran for re-election as a Republican against a Hispanic opponent.

Gail: I don’t have reservations about whether Bloomberg could be a good president. But I’m still not convinced he could get there. Spin me the story of how he wins the nomination and trumps the Trump.

Bret: Beating Trump would be the easy part — assuming he can secure the nomination. Democrats will vote for him because he isn’t Trump, and because he shares their core values when it comes to reproductive rights, gun control and climate change. Independents will vote for him because he isn’t Trump and because they know he will be a good steward of the economy and a capable champion of American interests and values. That leaves Trump with nobody except his hard-core base, which is about 40 percent of the electorate.

I also see Bloomberg easily winning Florida. Our first Jewish president! I’m kvelling already.

Gail: He’d be the first-whole-bunch-of-things. Time for a change!

Bret: The toughie is getting the nomination. He’s an East Coast Master-of-the-Universe when Democrats have become the party that wants to “cancel billionaires,” whatever that means. He is jumping in the race very late and will tick off some voters for seeming like an opportunistic Johnny-come-lately. He will have a hard time winning in Iowa, where other candidates have been stumping for months. But he should definitely try to compete in New Hampshire. He needs a strong showing in at least one state to prove he’s for real and can actually win votes rather than merely buy them.

Gail: Looks like his plan is to skip Iowa and New Hampshire. Which worked so well for that other New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani. Still remember covering the Giuliani presidential campaign in Florida, watching him try to casually walk along the beach in a suit.

But I would never insult Bloomberg by comparing him to Rudy …

Bret: Comparing Bloomberg to Giuliani is like comparing Carlos Santana to Axl Rose: One of them definitely did not get better with age.

Bloomberg’s appeal to Democrats must be along the lines that he’s a uniter in an age of division; that he made his fortune honestly, ran his business ethically and has given billions back; that he’s ready to be president on Day 1; that he will restore sanity and sobriety to our politics; and, above all, that he is the only moderate in the race with a sure shot at the election. People love Pete Buttigieg, but he’s just too young. People should love Michael Bennet, but he failed to catch fire. And people don’t love Cory Booker because he seems way too contrived.

I know primary voters like to go with their hearts but 2020 is a year Democrats really need to vote with their heads. The stakes are just too high.

But I’m dreaming, right? Making the wish the parent of the thought, as someone once said.

Gail: We’ll see. I’ve got to see Bloomberg out there pretending to admire the butter sculptures at some state fair before I’m totally convinced this will work.

Bret: That’s an important point. Retail politics still count for a lot. It’s a real skill, making each and every voter feel that she (or he) is the most interesting person the candidate has ever met — as opposed to the other way around. Bill Clinton had the gift, and so does Joe Biden. I’m not sure Bloomberg does. And, as you say, Bloomberg will have to find a way to mend fences with African-American voters.

Gail: In the meantime, how about the rest of the field? I know you hate the Elizabeth Warren candidacy because of her positions on issues like health care. But I truly believe she’s suffering from being a woman — and not a “likable” woman, whatever that means. We’re still a long way from getting sex bias out of politics.

Bret: You’re surely right. As for me, I’d happily vote for Amy Klobuchar, even though she has a reputation as a horrible boss, because I like her political moderation and find her obvious intelligence and slightly nervous stage presence both reassuring and refreshingly human.

It’s an interesting question — and a hard one for me to answer — when judgments about female politicians cross the line from fair criticism of someone’s positions or an honest dislike of someone’s personality to thinly veiled sexism. How do you tell the difference?

Gail: There’s a disproportionate amount of “unlikable” going on with the Warren critics. I’ve told you that the times I’ve run into her I’ve found her always improving — more confident, more comfortable with her campaign, funnier, smarter about selling her agenda.

Bret: I’m sure she’s totally fine as a person. It’s her radical policies and her unelectability that worry me.

Gail: But Bret, are you finding this campaign both totally obsessing and also completely … too much? It’s kind of exhausting to be thinking about Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden every single day. Anything else that you’d like to talk about? Seen any good movies?

Bret: I don’t get to the theater very often, but I fly a lot and just saw “Lost in Translation” again, which holds up really well. So does the documentary “Apollo 11,” which blew me away when I first saw it earlier this year. It’s a nice reminder of a time when cutting-edge tech meant firing giant rockets into space, not depositing mental clutter into cyberspace.

Gail: I’ve had several conversations over the last few weeks about email: Do you delete everything or do you just let it pile up? I’m a big deleter — can’t stand to have more than one screen — and a computer consultant who came to help me the other day said I’ve deleted 170,000 messages. Which sounds … troubling.

Bret: As the Monkees once sang, “I’m a de-le-ter.” We are stuffing the digital universe with terabytes of trivia. Posterity will not be enriched by keeping it.

Gail: Well, posterity is the least of my worries. But sort of concerned that I’m spending a substantial amount of my life just tidying up my email account. Time that could be devoted to reading, or healthy exercise or, um, online solitaire.

Bret: But let’s get back to our favorite TV drama: the American presidency. Three witnesses will be testifying publicly in the impeachment inquiry this week, all of them diplomats: Bill Taylor, George Kent and Marie Yovanovitch. What’s the likelihood that their testimony will move the needle on impeachment?

Gail: How many Americans have an opinion about Donald Trump that isn’t already set in stone?

It’s true that a message is more powerful when you can see and listen to the person delivering it. And trying to trade government aid for dirt on your political opponent is terrible. I think it’s impeachable. But I can’t believe anyone who’s stuck with Trump through all the other appalling moments of his presidency will bail on him over this. How about you?

Bret: One of the things I love about our conversations, Gail, is that both of us try our best to remain open-minded. You’ve helped convince me that Trump’s behavior with Ukraine can’t be allowed to pass without the stiffest condemnation that Congress can muster. And let the chips fall where they may in the Senate.

I’ve got to assume that I’m not alone here, that some small but significant percentage of Americans isn’t just forever fixed in its political reflexes, or “narrative,” or whatever we call it these days. The facts are clear: The president of the United States sought to besmirch a political rival, extort an embattled ally, subvert the will of Congress, lie to everyone about everything and then brazenly insist there is nothing wrong with any of this.

As you put it in one of our past conversations: Impeach the sucker.

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