Mike Bloomberg, American Julianus

I see that Mike Bloomberg is angling to become the Didius Julianus of our day. Historians refer to 193 A.D. as the “Year of the Five Emperors.” Julianus became the second contestant in that sweepstakes after the Praetorian Guard murdered the emperor Pertinax, who had been stingy about distributing the pelf they had come to expect. By this time, the Praetorian Guard was a law unto itself, much as the administrative state is today.

Pertinax only survived for about three months as emperor. Cutting to the mercenary chase, the Guard then announced they were auctioning off the office of emperor to the highest bidder. The main contenders were Claudius Sulpicianus, prefect of Rome, and Julianus, a rich politician and former consul under Commodus. Each made multiple offers until Sulpicianus reached the astounding sum of 20,000 sesterces per soldier in the Guard, several times their annual salary. Julianus saw and raised that bid, offering 25,000 sesterces per head.

Thus did he become emperor, earning a place in the history books.

It did not end happily, though. Neither the legions nor the Senate was happy about the office of emperor being bought outright and Julianus was abandoned by his supporters as Septimius Severus, the ultimate successor as emperor, bore down upon Rome. Julianus, having reigned a mere 66 days, was killed by a soldier in the palace on June 1. His last words are said to have been, “What evil have I done? Whom have I killed?”

The bidding for the Democratic nomination is not quite as brazen as was the contest between Sulpicianus and Julianus. Bloomberg is not barking offers over office partitions at the DNC as Julianus did outside the Praetorian camp. But, still, Bloomberg is pretty brazen.

To date, he is estimated to have spent between $400-$500 million. Just last week, it was reported that he has engaged an “army” of many hundreds to say nice things about him on social media. Each of those tweeters, Facebookers, Instagramers, and Snapchatters gets $2,500 a month for the privilege of being nice to Mike for the duration.

Any politician worth his salt needs endorsements from other politicians in his party to show that he has support from the home team. Since until 15 minutes ago Bloomberg was a law-and-order capitalist pig Republican, this is a little tricky. But the Julianus gambit works wonders on susceptible politicians.

Want an endorsement from Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C.? Easy, just drop part of a $70 million fund into her administration to support climate change. (Just to be clear, this is not like the party Evelyn Waugh describes in Scoop where the English ladies representing an animal cruelty organization are treated to a fête wherein the guests boast of the many ways in which they have done their best to be cruel to animals. No, this is an initiative against “climate change,” whatever that may be.)

Money does not have a large vocabulary, but it does know how to say “Yes.” Bloomberg poured $4.5 million into the 2016 campaign of Harley Rouda, a congressman from California. In fact, I’d like to go on record here to say that for a mere $5 million, I would be happy to endorse Mike Bloomberg. I am not sure how valuable my endorsement would be, but I calculate that it represents only .0078125 percent of his $64 billion fortune. I hope he will consider it. I will happily supply wire instructions. I should add that I have many friends who would be delighted to help out the mayor with a similar offer.

By the way, I do not mention all this to disparage Bloomberg’s great wealth. I admire it. And unlike Bernie Sanders—unlike Democrats in general—I think it is one of the great things about America that people who work hard, are clever, and lucky, can amass great fortunes. Good for them.

But it does highlight the ironic high-wire act that Bloomberg is attempting with his quest for the Democratic nomination. Remember the fulminations of the party faithful against “plutocrats” like Donald Trump? Trump’s fortune is dwarfed by Bloomberg’s, but the bottom line is that the party of hypocrisy is not against “money in politics” so long as it is money supporting Democratic candidates.

But is Bloomberg a Democratic candidate? The ironies multiply.

He started his mayoral run in New York as a Republican. Throughout his terms—that’s “terms” with a bright shiny “three” at the end, notwithstanding the rule that a mayor in New York City may serve only two terms—throughout his three terms, I say, he supported a lot of conservative policies. He also supported a lot of nanny-state measures, but we can leave those to one side for the moment. He took on the teachers’ unions. He supported stop-and-frisk, supported the police generally. He understood the importance of civic order and did not encourage vagrancy, drug abuse, and the desecration of public property, as does his successor. Moreover, Bloomberg can add and subtract. He is not a fiscal incontinent.

But such attributes are not valued in today’s Democratic Party. To speak frankly, they are positively discouraged.

Even before he passes over that $5 million endorsement fee, I am going to offer Mike Bloomberg some constructive advice. Stop apologizing for things like “stop-and-frisk.” The lunatic fringe (I know, I know, it is much more than a fringe) of the Democratic Party doesn’t like law-and-order initiatives like stop-and-frisk, but the truth is the policy helped assure order and, more to the point, it saved many black lives. That’s how Bloomberg used to sell it. That’s how he ought to sell it again.

Another suggestion. Go easy on the billboards. I see Bloomberg’s troops have paid for one announcing that Donald Trump likes to eat burnt steak while he, Mike Bloomberg, likes his medium rare. Another declares that Trump cheats at golf, while he, Mike Bloomberg, does not.

These initiatives are not helpful—not if you want Bloomberg to win. I have no doubt they impress most voters as did the billboards that Mike Murphy commissioned for Jeb! Bush in 2016. “Donald Trump is a moron, Jeb Bush” they read, or words to that effect. It took about five minutes for someone who knew how to use photoshop to alter the image to read “Set all our donor money on fire, Mike Murphy.” I’m told that Bloomberg has bought up the services of so many consultants that other campaigns are hurting for talent. I wonder whether he picked up Murphy in one of his bulk purchases.

I do not, alas, have any clever suggestions for Bloomberg’s girl trouble, which figured so prominently in his disastrous first debate in Phoenix last week. But doubtless, someone on the payroll will think of some way of dealing with all those unguarded remarks to members of the distaff side, some politically palatable way of retiring the controversy over all those non-disclosure agreements he made with paid-off women.

I know that a lot of smart people have been looking to Bloomberg as—at last, finally—an adult in the romper room that is Democratic politics these days. He didn’t exactly end his candidacy in Phoenix, but he did make it much more difficult, which is to say, much more expensive. Of course, “expensive” is essentially a meaningless term when you have $64 billion (let me write that out: it’s more impressive as $64,000,000,000).

The crystal ball will become clearer on March 3, Super Tuesday, when we’ll know if either Bloomberg or Bernie Sanders has the momentum to stride into Milwaukee as a winner. My sense is that they’ll go to Milwaukee with the question undecided. Maybe Hillary has booked an appointment at the hairdresser in anticipation of the second ballot at the convention. If it were not cruel to wish that upon her, and the country, I’d support such an outcome.

I understand that a lot of things can change, and change very quickly. But as of this writing, I suspect that Bloomberg’s effort to impersonate Didius Julianus will fail. I hope it doesn’t fail for a good long while, though. It’s fun to watch Mike Bloomberg spread his money around like manure. I hope he wastes lots and lots of it. After all, consultants are people, too, or so I have been told.

Still, despite the best efforts of the cooler heads in the increasingly desperate Democratic leadership, the Marxist Sanders will be the nominee. Trump will crush him in the general election. Then maybe the Democrats will take some time off to reconsider what their embrace of an insane left-wing agenda has wrought.

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

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