Newly announced Democratic presidential candidate, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during a press conference to discuss his presidential run on November 25, 2019 in Norfolk, Virginia.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Mike Bloomberg is one of the richest men in the world. But he’s about to learn a priceless lesson: You can’t buy the American presidency.
It’s not that Bloomberg’s entry into the presidential race is simply a matter of his enormous wealth and already record-breaking campaign spending. His actions as the former mayor of New York City and activism as a private citizen prove Bloomberg is passionate about issues — such as gun control and climate change — that could help him connect with Democratic Party primary voters.
Nevertheless, recent history tells us Bloomberg’s money can only get him so far and the rest of what a candidate needs to win the White House is something money can’t buy.
It’s important to remember that President Donald Trump’s 2016 win came despite the fact that he spent only about half of what Hillary Clinton dished out in the last presidential election.
That left many Clinton supporters and even disinterested parties wondering what she got for that financial advantage. It’s still a burning question for the many people who make their living not just staffing campaigns but also spending an ever-increasing amount in each new campaign cycle.
The good news for that industry is Bloomberg is now in the race and the Trump campaign is breaking fundraising records in this cycle, spending much more than it did in 2016.
But none of that changes the fact that money alone is simply not enough.
The key ingredient to winning any election is being persuasive enough to ignite passionate support among a core group of voters that carries all the way to Election Day.
Barack Obama did that in 2008 as his campaign took on a transformational spirit from the moment he announced his candidacy. Donald Trump did something similar by drawing huge and raucous crowds to his rallies early in the primary process, something that had never been done before. Without that passion, no matter how deserved or undeserved, a candidate cannot win the presidency.
Now to be sure, Obama wouldn’t have had the chance to trigger that passion without a decent amount of fundraising and spending in the pre-election year of 2007. Similarly, Trump couldn’t have spurred a grassroots movement to fill those rallies without an enormous amount of free publicity he received from the news media through much of 2015.
But there’s a cause-and-effect relationship that people often forget to consider when they complain about or give too much credit to campaign cash. Remember that having more money doesn’t make a candidate more persuasive. Often, the best-funded candidate gets that money because he or she has inspired more donations by being a more persuasive candidate.
Think of campaign cash as the chips you need to get into a big-money poker match. Yes, that money gets you a seat at the table. But once all the players get to the table, it isn’t the richest one who wins, it’s the smartest and/or luckiest one.
More than any other candidate in history, Bloomberg’s massive cash reserves allow him to forgo any concerns about campaign funding. But no amount of money can make him more persuasive to the voters and inspire some level of passion.
Based on his official video announcing his campaign, Bloomberg has a long way to go when it comes to inspiring enthusiasm, and he and his presumably highly paid staffers are simply wrong if they think they can win without creating some level of voter passion.
Some of this may be an offshoot of some other misconceptions. A large number of Democrats continue to believe that the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails and the presidential campaign ads illegally paid for by Russia helped tip the election to Donald Trump in 2016. This theory flies in the face of common sense on one hand and a thorough academic study showing Russian influence did little to change any voters’ minds.
But let’s pretend we agree Russian efforts did make the difference and look at how much money was behind those efforts. According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals accused of trying to meddle in the 2016 elections, the group spent $1.25 million per month in their efforts or $14 million for the year. Much of the focus was on the mere $100,000 or so Russians spent on political ads posted by fake users on Facebook. Well, if you believe $14 million in intelligently placed ads and $100,000 on Facebook was enough to win the White House in 2016, then Bloomberg is sure to win with his unlimited campaign war chest.
Except he’s not. Bloomberg’s money is an undeniable factor, but in many ways his entire candidacy is just more of the same. While each of the Democrats running has worked to tap into the considerable anti-Trump sentiment out there, none of them has made a truly convincing case for why we should vote for them as opposed to just against this president.
Note that Bloomberg fell into the same trap in his official campaign announcement, with its first words being: “I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump.”
Unless Bloomberg can find a way out of future mistakes like that and get his way into the hearts of a core group of passionate voters, this has all the makings of the most expensive lesson in campaign failure.
Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.