Sen. Elizabeth Warren has largely refrained from attacking — or even responding to attacks from — her opponents in the Democratic presidential primary race.
Michael Bloomberg is an exception.
The former New York City mayor and Medford native officially entered the race Sunday, pledging to tap into his $52 billion fortune to self-fund his campaign and purchasing a record-breaking amount of advertising time for its first week. Warren, who is running a grassroots-driven campaign, isn’t a fan of that approach. And she’s not making it a secret.
“Michael Bloomberg is making a bet about democracy in 2020: He doesn’t need people, he only needs bags and bags of money,” the Massachusetts senator told a crowd Monday in Iowa.
“I think Michael Bloomberg is wrong, and that’s what we need to prove in this election,” she said. “His view is that he doesn’t need people who knock on doors, he doesn’t need to get out and campaign with people, he doesn’t need volunteers, and if you get out and knock on a thousands doors, he’ll just spend another $37 million to flood the airways. And that’s how he plans to buy a nomination in the Democratic Party.”
Bloomberg, a former Republican, announced his campaign calling for action to address climate change, reduce gun violence, and rebuild the middle class. And while his campaign says he supports higher taxes on the rich, the 77-year-old billionaire clashed with Warren earlier this year over her proposed wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million. Following criticism from other billionaires, her campaign released a “calculator for the billionaires” estimating that Bloomberg would pay more than $3 billion in the first year of her wealth tax.
But this week, Warren’s primary target was Bloomberg’s campaign strategy, as opposed to his policy views.
“I think he’s fundamentally wrong,” she said Monday, arguing that democracy works better when campaigns are built from the ground up through face-to-face interactions.
Michael Bloomberg may think he doesn't need people to win this election—he just needs bags of money.
He’s wrong. That's why I'm investing in meeting thousands of voters, taking over 85,000 selfies, and building a grassroots movement that will fight for big, structural change. pic.twitter.com/DZftlFvyqi
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 25, 2019
Warren’s speech came after she suggested over the weekend that Bloomberg’s massive ad buy was “one way to pay less” under her wealth tax.
The series of criticisms are especially notable given the Warren campaign’s concerted effort to avoid going negative against fellow Democratic primary candidates, even amid escalating attacks from her opponents. As Politico recently reported, the campaign has stayed focused on promoting her populist message. The only high-profile exception was when Warren shot back after former Vice President Joe Biden suggested she wasn’t being straightforward about her health care plan.
Otherwise, the campaign has only picked public fights with symbols of concentrated power, like Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and Amazon. And to that extent, Bloomberg is something of a hybrid — both one of the world’s richest people and now also a Democratic candidate.
“Her message is rich people have rigged the system by buying influence, and here comes a rich person trying to rig the system by buying influence,” a source close to the Warren campaign told The Washington Post.
As part of his self-funded effort, Bloomberg has vowed to not accept campaign donations, which his campaign says will minimize the influence of special interests. And during his first in-person campaign stop as a candidate Monday, he made note of the hundreds of millions of dollars he’s spent “fighting the NRA” and funding Democratic candidates.
“For years I’ve been using my resources for the things that matter to me.,” Bloomberg told reporters Monday in Norfolk, Virginia. “I was lucky enough to build a successful company. It has been very successful, and I’ve used all of it to give back to help America.”
In addition to using his money to fund gun safety and climate action efforts, Bloomberg said he was now turning toward another important issue for Democrats: Defeating President Donald Trump.
“I’m now in the race,” he said. “I’m fully committed to defeating Donald Trump. I think he’s an existential threat to our country. I’m going to make my case and let the voters, who are plenty smart, make their choice.”
Tom Steyer, a fellow Democratic mega-donor and 2020 presidential candidate, has taken a similar approach to politics, as well as his campaign. The liberal billionaire philanthropist and former hedge fund manager’s predominantly self-funded campaign has spent more than $50 million this year, mostly on advertising. Though unlike Bloomberg, he has solicited small donations in order to meet the qualifying thresholds for the Democratic debates (Bloomberg has conceded that he will miss the debates, unless the eligibility rules are changed).
Steyer — whose esimated net worth is $1.6 billion — has also avoided the same level of criticism from Warren. With the exception of a glancing tweet upon his entrance into the race in July, Warren hasn’t gone on the offensive against the other billionaire in the Democratic primary. For his part, Steyer has proposed a more modest version of a wealth tax on the super-rich and, similar to Warren, has called for aggressive action to reduce the political influence of corporations.
Still, Warren suggested Monday that the nature of democracy would change if a billionaire self-funds their way to the Democratic nomination, singling out Bloomberg in particular.
“It’s going to be about which billionaire you can stomach going forward,” she said. “Because believe me, there are plenty of billionaires who believe they should be president or, at a minimum, should be picking the president. But not me.”