Mike Bloomberg’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination this year was a bit of a disaster: The former New York mayor spent more than a billion dollars just to wipe out after Super Tuesday, winning American Samoa and the open disdain of many of the Democrats he ran against. In the weeks after his early March exit, many former campaign staffers openly rebelled against him after he decided not to keep them on with a Democratic-boosting campaign arm through November, as he’d initially said he would do. Some of his ex-staff have sued him for fraud.
On Thursday night, the Democrat turned Republican turned Independent turned Democrat spoke in primetime at the Democratic National Convention. It was the kind of speaking role many in the party he only officially rejoined in late 2018 would have killed for, including some of the Democrats he ran against for president, many of whom were bunched into a group video that ran just before Bloomberg spoke.
Biden, Bloomberg said in his speech, has proven he can handle a crisis. Trump, he said, has failed to lead.
“When confronted with the biggest calamity any president has faced in the modern era, Donald Trump spent the year downplaying the threat, ignoring science, and recommending quack cures, which let COVID-19 spread much faster than it should’ve, leaving hundreds of thousands needlessly sick or dead,” Bloomberg said. “He has failed the American people, catastrophically.”
Bloomberg, despite the bad blood within the party from his campaign earlier this year, remains one of the party’s key donors. He may have spent a billion dollars on his own run, but he’s still spending many millions of dollars on others.
In 2018, Bloomberg’s efforts and spending on behalf of Democrats helped the party take House seats around the country. In recent years, he’s poured large sums into climate change and gun control efforts. And while Bloomberg hasn’t followed through on the $1 billion he once said he would spend expressly to beat President Donald Trump, he has given $18 million to the Democratic National Committee and has said he will spend $60 million to help Democrats in gain and keep seats in Congress. Bloomberg’s data company Hawkfish is also still being put to use helping Democrats.
Still, Bloomberg staffers who had been led to believe they would have a job through November were unceremoniously cut loose, and Bloomberg only agreed to keep former staff on health insurance through November after unflattering media coverage.
Bloomberg allies still argue he’s a strong voice for Biden heading into the final weeks against Trump.
“Yes, it's the Democratic convention, but we also need to reach independents, moderates, and frustrated Republicans in order to win, and he’s a good voice for that," a former Bloomberg campaign staffer said earlier Thursday. Plus, the former staffer argued, Bloomberg’s expertise on the economy lends credibility to Biden on one of the top issues for voters.
And Bloomberg did lean into the economy in his speech Thursday.
“Trump says we should vote for him because he’s a great businessman,” he said. “Really? He drove his companies into bankruptcy six times, always leaving behind customers and contractors who were cheated and swindled and stopped doing business with him.”
Bloomberg had a prominent role in the last Democratic convention as well, endorsing Hillary Clinton and branding Trump as a dangerous con. The endorsement carried added weight at the time because of Bloomberg’s affiliation as a political independent, not a Democrat.
He called back to that 2016 speech on Thursday. “Four years ago, I came before this very convention and said New Yorkers know a con when we see one. But tonight, I’m not asking you to vote against Trump because he’s a bad guy. I’m urging you to vote against him because he’s done a bad job.”
Biden’s convention, over the course of four nights, has featured several Republicans. Former Ohio governor John Kasich had a significant speaking slot on the first night, which also featured former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman and former California gubernatorial candidate and current Quibi CEO Meg Whitman. Colin Powell, the Republican former secretary of state, endorsed Biden in a convention address on Tuesday.
Bloomberg’s successor as mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, also briefly ran for president. He has had no direct involvement with this year’s Democratic convention.