When Michael Bloomberg appeared at a forum hosted by the Bermuda Business Development Agency in March 2019, he explained that his then-recent decision to not run for president was based on a desire to not have to alter his positions to appeal to Democratic Party voters.
He was unwilling to “change all of my views and go on what CNN called an apology tour,” Bloomberg said, referencing Joe Biden’s numerous apologies as the former vice president was gearing up his candidacy.
“Some of these people, they were for-it-before-they-were-against-it, and they’re with you as long as they can be and things like that,” Bloomberg said. “And that’s just not me. My charm is that I say what I believe and I do it.”
But Bloomberg changed his mind about running, announcing a bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination last November. And in line with his critique of others, he has released a steady stream of new Bloomberg policies that either totally or partially contradict his past stated views ― some that he declared as recently as 2019.
It’s not as though past presidential candidates have not changed their positions to better appeal to a primary electorate.
Biden, whom Bloomberg made reference to in his “apology tour” comment, has had to apologize for or reverse himself for his opposition to forced school busing to achieve integration in the 1970s, his support for punitive criminal justice policies in the 1990s, and his vote to enable the Iraq War in 2002.
In his 2012 presidential campaign, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was forced to distance himself from the health care plan he enacted as governor of Massachusetts because the Affordable Care Act pushed into law by then-President Barack Obama ― the man he sought to replace ― was based on it.
Perhaps the most famous recent faux pas concerning a policy reversal was uttered by then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) during his 2004 presidential race. Discussing an Iraq War funding measure, he said he “actually did vote for” it “before I voted against it.” That fueled the Republican effort to label him a “flip-flopper.” Indeed, he was mocked by actual flip-flops brought to the 2004 Republican National Convention, which happened to be hosted by then-New York Mayor Bloomberg ― at the time a Republican (he’s also been an independent).
But no candidate has reversed themselves as suddenly and jarringly as Bloomberg. He has flip-flopped on the stop and frisk law enforcement practice, raising the minimum wage, and financial sector regulation. He has also issued policies that contradict or obscure his past positions on Social Security and marijuana legalization. The result ― it is increasingly unclear what Bloomberg actually believes and what he will do if he wins the Democratic Party presidential nomination and then the White House.
The Bloomberg campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stop And Frisk
The clearest example of Bloomberg’s reversals is the one issue about which he has actually apologized: stop and frisk. The policy, started before he took office in New York but revved up by his administration, targeted Black and Latino neighborhoods. Of an estimated 5 million police stops of mostly young men from 2002 to 2013, the entirety of his time as mayor, 90% of those stopped and frisked were innocent.
“I now see that we could and should have acted sooner, and acted faster, to cut the stops,” Bloomberg said days before entering the presidential race in November. “I wish we had — and I’m sorry that we didn’t.”
The policy only ended after a judge ruled that the practice was essentially a “policy of indirect racial profiling.” Bloomberg fought the ruling, personally attacked the judge who issued it and refused to admit that anything was wrong with the policy until he ran for president.
As recently as 2015, Bloomberg was defending the practice on strictly racial grounds. “Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O.,” Bloomberg said at an Aspen Institute event. “You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York. That’s true in virtually every city.”
He currently claims, wrongly, that he ended stop and frisk after he saw that the policy was not working the way he had initially intended.
“Bloomberg has attempted to walk back his support of his own racist policies as if the country would simply forget,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, a progressive group that backs criminal justice reform, said in a statement.
Bloomberg’s opponents in the Democratic race assailed him for both the policy and the false reason he presents for why he ended it at a debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
“This isn’t about how it turned out. This is about what it was designed to do to begin with,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said. “It targeted black and brown men. ... You need a different apology here.”
“The policy was abhorrent,” Biden said.
But stop and frisk is hardly the only issue on which Bloomberg has made an about-face.
$15 Minimum Wage
Today, Bloomberg is running for president in support of a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage ― a position held by all Democratic presidential hopefuls. But during a talk at the International Monetary Fund in 2018, he described the minimum wage as one of many “impediments to job creation” in the U.S., and argued increasing it would force employers to employ fewer workers. This appears to be the position Bloomberg had held when he first emerged as a public figure.
“I, for example, am not in favor, have never been in favor, of raising the minimum wage,” he said in 2015.
Bloomberg did back an increase in New York state’s minimum wage in 2012 to $8.50-an-hour from $7.25. But this came amid a push for establishing a living wage that would set the minimum at $15. When he vetoed a living wage bill passed by the New York City Council that would have increased minimum wages for businesses that received city monies that same year, he compared the measure to “the USSR.”
The Council overrode Bloomberg’s veto. He sued twice to prevent the law from going into effect.
“Only Mr. Bloomberg can tell us why he changed his mind,” Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project, said about his change of heart on the issue now that he seeks the presidency.
Still, it’s “better late to the party, than never,” Conti added.
Wall Street Power
Similarly, Bloomberg is reversing himself on issues of financial sector power and reform. His career and fortune were built by servicing Wall Street with expensive computer terminals to facilitate trading in any and every market in the world. But he now proposes a raft of reforms that include a financial transaction tax and a Justice Department-led crackdown on financial sector lawbreaking.
This is a sudden pivot for Bloomberg, as he has spent his entire career defending Wall Street. He blamed the end of racist “redlining” practices in 2008 for the economic crash and ensuing financial crisis that begat the Great Recession.
“It all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone,” he said, according to a report by The Associated Press.
He told Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011 that they had it all wrong. Banks didn’t create the financial crisis: “It was, plain and simple, Congress, who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp,” he said.
When Congress passed the Dodd-Frank financial sector reform, Bloomberg complained that the law took “punitive actions” against the banks and investors. The reforms were “stupid” and “really dysfunctional.”
“The trouble is if you reduce the risk at these institutions, they can’t make the money they did,” Bloomberg said in 2014.
Porter McConnell, director of the Take On Wall Street campaign at Americans for Financial Reform, termed it “great” that Bloomberg has rolled out a comprehensive financial sector reform plan.
But, “Americans need candidates who have a strong track record of acting in the public interest even in the face of industry opposition,” McConnell added in an email. “And blaming the 2008 financial crisis on the end of legal redlining suggests Bloomberg has a ways to go in understanding what reforming Wall Street is all about.”
Social Security Cuts
Bloomberg is now advocating for small targeted increases in Social Security benefits after repeatedly calling for cutting benefits over the past eight years. As recently as 2015, he compared AARP’s opposition to Social Security cuts to the National Rifle Association’s opposition to gun control, according to The American Prospect.
“[T]he gun advocates, the NRA is a single-issue advocacy group… they have a disproportionate percent of power,” Bloomberg said that year at a Council on Foreign Relations event. “So does the AARP. Somebody suggested we change the age when Social Security kicks in in the year 2050. They went crazy, it would hurt their members. How many members of the AARP are going to be around in 2050? Come on.”
He also was a national co-chair of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a CEO-backed campaign to pair Social Security and Medicare cuts with tax increases. He endorsed the Social Security cuts in the so-called Bowles-Simpson plan unveiled by a commission Obama set up in 2010 (the plan went nowhere.
Bloomberg praised former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ― who for years stressed deficit reduction ― for, “talking about whether we can afford to continue to do what we’ve been doing,” even if he didn’t entirely support Ryan’s plans.
Advocates for preserving and expanding current Social Security benefits say they don’t believe Bloomberg has changed his position. They assert that he’s just not talking about it anymore.
“I would be delighted if he were changing his position,” said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, a nonprofit that advocates for increasing the benefits, said. “I believe he is continuing his position, just using more guarded language to do it.”
The 2016 Democratic platform and all of the other top candidates for the party’s 2020 nomination have endorsed increasing Social Security benefits while Bloomberg has not, Altman points out.
Bloomberg today says that if elected, he would decriminalize marijuana, expunge certain marijuana convictions and not interfere in states that have already legalized the substance.
But just last year he called marijuana legalization enacted by 11 states and the District of Columbia “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”
His campaign, meanwhile, employs a former employee of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
His mayoral administration “oversaw the arrest of 440,000 individuals for marijuana possession and weaponized racist policing policies such as stop and frisk,” Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, said in an email.
No small change in position, particularly one short of full legalization, is going to make legalization supporters trust him on this issue.
“If dialing back mass incarceration and ending our failed prohibition on marijuana is an issue that you care about, there probably isn’t a worse candidate in the primary to support than Michael Bloomberg,” Altieri said.
Bloomberg Knew What He Was In For
It’s not as though Bloomberg didn’t foresee that his bid for the Democratic Party nomination would be discordant with his past.
The party, he lamented at the same March 2019 Bermuda business forum where he ruled out a run, had “moved very far left.” He was a centrist, he said, “and there’s just no ways of reconciling my views in terms of being fiscally responsible and addressing issues and actually demanding results in improving education and fighting drugs and climate.”
Winning the nomination, Bloomberg said, was “almost inconceivable” for him.
“I guess it’s never 100%,” he added. “But it would be virtually impossible for me to go and to get that nomination.”