The Media’s ‘I Like Mike’ Disaster

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U.S. News & World Report just loved former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Here is the gushing headline from January: “They’ll Like Mike: Mike Bloomberg has shown he’s not afraid to spend money on the 2020 presidential campaign – even if the Democratic nominee isn’t him.”

The U.S. News story exulted this way as it began:  

NEW YORK — THE SWANKY hotel ballroom was packed with an estimated 1,000 women, carrying glasses of wine and waving campaign signs as they greeted the slight, nerdy-looking 77-year-old as if he were a music legend – or maybe even a headline speaker at the Women's March. “We Like Mike! We Like Mike!” they shouted, drowning out the pop music blaring from a sophisticated sound system. 

The man of honor, Mike Bloomberg, smiled appreciatively before launching into a campaign pitch made for the audience. He gave the obligatory credit to the “strong women” in his life who have made the multibillionaire who he is. He ridiculed President Donald Trump as a man he knew during his 12 years as New York City mayor – and still regards – as “just a failed businessman who desperately wanted to be on TV.” 

Over at CNBC, the business branch of NBC put a business spin to Bloomberg’s support, headlining this: “Media mogul John Malone says Trump causes ‘chaos’ and he would vote for Bloomberg in 2020.” 

Malone, the chairman of Liberty Media enthused that instead of Trump:

“… He’d vote for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the 2020 presidential election despite his own reservations as a pronounced libertarian. Malone said he’d still favor billionaire Bloomberg even though he doesn’t know if Bloomberg “has much of a chance.”

And don’t forget Hollywood. Here’s the headline from The Wrap: “Bloomberg 2020? Hollywood Power Players Like Mike as the One to Beat Trump.” 

The Hollywood version of Bloomberg media began this way: 

The ascending presidential candidacy of Mike Bloomberg has Hollywood abuzz.

You can keep your Bernie bros, your persisting Warren, your trusty Mayor Peter — it’s the billionaire former mayor of New York City, with his aggressive messaging on social media and mainstream business pedigree, that has many in Hollywood breathing a sigh of relief.

‘I’ve been really impressed lately in the quality and reach of Bloomberg’s social and transition media ads,’ Ross Gerber, an L.A.-based investor whose clientele is heavily comprised of Hollywood, told TheWrap. “He seems to get what he needs to do to get voters behind him. People are super happy to have a non-socialist who is business-friendly running for the Democrats.”

Not to be left out of the Mike Mania is, but of course, his hometown New York Times. Where lefty columnist Thomas Friedman headlines his column this way: “Why I Like Mike.”

Friedman says this: 

I have no idea whether Michael Bloomberg can win the Democratic nomination, but I’m glad that he’s joining the race. (Disclosure: Bloomberg Philanthropies has contributed to 
Planet Word, the museum my wife is building in Washington, to promote reading and literacy.)

…So I’m glad Bloomberg may enter the race, because he will forcefully put a Democratic pro-growth, pro-innovation, pro-business agenda on the table, while also pushing ahead on major 
social issues.

One could go on —  and on —  with stories like these from one media outlet after another. And anyone with a few gray hairs and some historical perspective would recognize what the “I Like Mike” phenomenon is all about.

Start with the “I Like Mike” business. Knowingly or not, it is a decided copy-cat of a long-ago Bloomberg-like presidential candidate. He was, the nation learned, a Republican, a previously unknown fact. He was decidedly not from what the press then and now loved to call the “right-wing” of the GOP. And most importantly, he had been a stupendous success in another career altogether.

That candidate was General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, the lifetime soldier and hero of D-Day, who jumped in the 1952 presidential race to defeat the “right wing” Ohio Senator Robert Taft. Eisenhower’s slogan? It had nothing whatsoever to do with issues. It simply played off his world-famous nickname: “I Like Ike.” And indeed, Americans did in fact “like Ike.” He routed not only GOP opponent Taft to gain the Republican nomination, but he went on to trounce Democratic nominee and Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson twice, in 1952 and 1956.

And right about there the I Like Mike wave and the I Like Ike phenomenon stops. Reality can be such a bummer,shattering, as it can, media fantasies.

No sooner was the media’s sudden I Like Mike push underway than the man himself, who had bought his way onto the NBC Democratic debate stage, had his more-or-less unexamined past brutally autopsied by his rivals, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in particular. From his billions to his tasteless jokes about women to humiliating demands for the release of “NDAs” —  Non-Disclosure Agreements —  his company employees have signed, on and on went the trashing of Mike.

And the media, suddenly caught up short, was so astonished that, for once, they actually if sheepishly had to acknowledge reality. Here is Fox’s Brian Flood on the post-debate media coverage of what was suddenly a veritable cascade of “I Don’t Like Mike” stories.

The headline: “Liberal pundits in lockstep on Mike Bloomberg's ‘disastrous’ debate performance.” Flood’s amazing —  and totally correct —   story began this way: 

Presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg pulled off the impossible during Wednesday night’s Democratic primary debate when he got essentially every political pundit in the mainstream media to agree on something.

Unfortunately for Bloomberg, they all agreed that he was the evening’s biggest loser. 

Mainstream media types typically favor moderate Democrats, evident by rampant accusations that far-left. But Bloomberg’s performance was panned by just about every liberal cable news talking head. 

The list of appalled liberal pundits went on. CNN’s Van Jones called the Bloomberg performance a “disaster.” His various CNN colleagues all agreed in their own fashion. There were ugly reviews from liberal pundits on CNBC, in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Vox and Mother Jones. 

It is not too much of a stretch to say no prominent candidate has suffered this much of a post-debate drubbing since 1960 Americans witnessed the dismal performance of the heavily favored Republican Vice President Richard Nixon by the then-new-on-the scene Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy in America’s first televised presidential debate.

So what’s the real message coming out of the media’s self-inflicted I Like Mike disaster?

Bandwagons never start off at high speed. They start off, as 2016 candidate Donald Trump —  and before him 2008’s Barack Obama, 1992’s Bill Clinton, 1976’s Jimmy Carter and 1960’s John Kennedy —  illustrated…slowly.  Patiently. With much time on a campaign trail meeting potential supporters and explaining one’s platform — when no one in the media is paying attention.

To do the opposite —  which is what Bloomberg has done- is a recipe for disaster. To suddenly jump in a race that long ago, for better or worse, had its established assembled cast is a serious mistake for the candidate. Precisely because the candidate can appear as totally unprepared, not to mention vastly over-hyped.

But the I Like Mike moment is especially a disaster for a media that all too willingly buys into its own hype about the candidate. Only, to their own astonishment, to be brought up short. 

In this case? This entire media-driven “I Like Mike” episode has produced one winner.

That would be Donald J. Trump.

And that sound of gnashing teeth that you hear?  It’s coming from the Hate Trump media that knows it.

NB Daily Column Campaigns & Elections 2020 Presidential Michael Bloomberg

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