As I prepare to fill out my primary ballot for Super Tuesday, I am asking myself a crucial question I urge everybody else to ask themselves as well: Assuming Democrats wins the Presidency and a majority in the Senate in the coming election, who would be the most likely to retain Congressional majorities in 2022?
Historically, the winning Presidential party loses seats in their first midterms, and this tends to be extremely consequential. In 2018, it gave us the only tool we had to constrain this President. In 2022, it could stop a Democratic presidency in its tracks.
It’s hard to imagine anyone suffering a greater chance of electoral blow-back than the candidate who has sought the most change. No one doubts that a President Sanders would introduce sweeping legislation from day one on multiple fronts. Though he refused to choose a first priority in interviews, by necessity Medicare-for-All would be at the top of the list. It would certainly be even more difficult to pass than the Affordable Healthcare Act was — and Obama came in with a 60-vote majority in the Senate, which not even the greatest optimist dreams of being possible this year.
Obama’s experience is instructive. Here was a popular President who had pulled the country back from the brink of economic ruin and finally got us on the road to a semblance of universal healthcare, and yet a mere two years later a rabid Tea Party was screaming “death panels” at town halls and driving the 2010 election result Obama famously termed a “shellacking.” This reversal considerably hamstrung the entire remainder of his administration, salvaged only by Obama’s extraordinary acumen as a leader.
Can we really doubt that the GOP would paint Medicare-for All in the direst terms imaginable? That some of the millions of Americans who really do like their healthcare plans wouldn’t be weaponized into a frenzy of misinformation and anger against it?
Contrast that with the first two years of a possible President Bloomberg, whose relatively incremental agenda is far less threatening to both the Republican opposition and the .1%, presently poised to ensure any radical changes proposed by Sanders will be fought tooth and nail. Action on climate change, however, is something even the Wall Street elite can sign off on, if only because its effects are inescapable even to them. And there is a greater if slightly bitter truth. The rich will listen to one of their own far less defensively than to an angry revolutionary, even if they’re proposing basically the same thing. Witness the Bill Gates’ Billionaire Pledge. If you’d asked them to pay the same in taxes as they are willing to give away, no one would have signed.
So in the first test of either Presidency, in 2022, who is the most likely to be able to consolidate and protect a Congressional majority, a man whose passionate young supporters tend to show up in low numbers for midterms (see 2018), or a man who can guarantee his allies in Congress the resources to defend their seats in their re-election bids?
Bloomberg’s largesse has not been confined to Democrats — he has funded some Republican campaigns as well, if the candidates signaled support for gun control measures. I’ve coined a term for this willingness to spend on candidates from both sides of the aisle: “buypartisanship.” This seems like something new, but it’s really an updating of an old American tradition. Former presidents did the same thing with the discredited but frankly effective use of earmarks. The dispensing of pork to bring along votes from the opposition was a major reason why political divisions did not result in a dysfunctional government. But as a consequence of its elimination, the door was opened instead to an oligarch doling out dollops of his own money to “get it done,” to quote Bloomberg’s ads. (At least the money is flowing out of his pockets instead of into them, as is the case with the current occupant of the White House. All corruption is not alike.)
Let’s assume Bloomberg was not nominated or elected, but another Democrat was. Whose administration would Mike be more likely to support both as President and in the midterms? A Buttigieg or Klobuchar, or a Sanders or Warren? Someone who won’t have spent all of his or her political capital trying to pass hugely transformational policies, or a President who faced the reality that the size of one’s Congressional majority actually means a lot more than the size of one’s rallies? Which Presidents would prompt Bloomberg to open the spigots of campaign funding for Democrats in 2022, or let them merely dribble?
My personal policy preferences are far to the left, believe it or not. But I sincerely believe that we have two more election cycles for enough demographic change to occur so that a President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (for example) could accomplish the sort of Scandinavian shift the country needs, with an uber-progressive majority behind her. Even with that electoral support, she would still need a world with a working climate to inherit, and a Supreme Court that has not upheld gerrymandering and Citizens United and reversed Roe v. Wade and LGBTQ rights and gun control legislation. For her to succeed, Rupert Murdoch must have died, leaving his far less right-wing sons in charge. And to be blunt, a large cohort of those viewers who keep Fox’s ratings high (and vote) must also pass into that great roadside diner in the sky where everyone wears MAGA hats and there are no black or brown people.
I will support the Democratic nominee enthusiastically, including Sanders. But I will make my primary choice based on who is most likely to build on any of the progressive changes they’ve been able to make in the first two years of their Presidency. Although there is so much about Bloomberg that is objectionable, I think his money will be crucial to protecting any significant climate change legislation, and just as essentially, retaining the Supreme Court. In my ideal world, he would provide the same support to a President Sanders or Warren as he would for himself or Buttigieg or Klobuchar. But that is extremely unlikely. He will remain, after all, a member of his class.
The nightmare I fear is a President Sanders who faces a dire recession as he enters office, anger from his own supporters for delivering far less than he promised, and met in the midterms with a 2010-like reversal of Democratic congressional majorities that hobble the rest of his administration. Obama redux, basically, with half the charm. Many of Bernie’s executive actions would be continually challenged by the increasingly conservative judges McConnell is presently installing as his legacy. God knows what sort of revived GOP he could face in 2024, trumpeting the “failure” of socialism, even one that never really had a chance to get off the ground. If they regained the Senate or House or both, it would be disastrous.
I don’t like voting my fears rather than my hopes, but after Trump, I simply can’t do otherwise. As wrong as it is for Bloomberg to have all that money in the first place, the reality is that only cold hard cash might be able to save the planet now. We can’t afford to ignore it, disdain it, or refuse it.