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Turning Bloomberg Into Trump

What Elizabeth Warren's attacks could mean for a deeply divided Democratic Party.

It was clear from the jump what Elizabeth Warren was trying to do to Michael Bloomberg during the debate this week: turn the former New York City mayor into a carbon copy of the politician Democratic voters most despise, President Donald Trump.

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” Warren began, setting up an indictment reminiscent of Megyn Kelly’s memorable debate question for Trump. “A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

Bloomberg by contrast wants to run on his record, but knows that business success and continuing the positive trends of the Rudy Giuliani years with less polarization isn’t exactly what Democrats are demanding in 2020. So instead he’s talking about being a manager. “Look, this is a management job,” he said, “and Donald Trump is not a manager.” (Trump did of course run on his managerial prowess in 2016, but even his most fervent supporters might look at the tumult of the last three years and concede that hasn’t been the president’s greatest strength.)

Still, not very inspiring stuff. Bloomberg is essentially the Democrats’ “In case of emergency, break glass” candidate. That emergency? Bernie Sanders threatening to win the nomination, or come close enough to hopelessly divide the party in the event that he is denied. Bloomberg wouldn’t be in the race right now if Joe Biden looked up to the challenge. His recent momentum suggests similar skepticism among enough Democratic voters about the “stop Bernie” readiness of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. The risk is that in the billionaire wrest the nomination away from the socialist, Democrats will resolve one emergency by courting another.

Those risks are heightened if Bloomberg is seen by progressives as Trump Lite. The Bloomberg of the glitzy ad campaign is someone who can beat Trump at his own game, not just managing but also trolling. (See the Arizona billboard about the president eating “burnt steak.”) The real-life Bloomberg on stage next to Warren did not seem quite so up to the challenge. If Bloomberg were to be the nominee, or even to emerge as a kingmaker in Milwaukee, it would almost certainly be of a deeply divided party. Bloomberg, perhaps even more than Hillary Clinton four years ago, would be counting on Trump to unite it.

But if Bloomberg were to graduate to the general election debate stage with Trump, will Warren and company have a critical mass of progressive voters seeing double?