During the dog days of August way back in 2003, when even politics took a few days off, an upstart candidate began to make waves in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
He was little known outside of Vermont, where he began his political career by spearheading a grassroots campaign to stop a condominium development on Lake Champlain, site of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) third home (he won, a bike path went in instead). The upstart went on to become the state’s five-time governor, the longest-serving in its history.
His name was Howard Dean, and suddenly, he was all the rage. While rival John Kerry was windsurfing on the Vineyard, Dean hit the buskings, working tirelessly to win over Democrats. And it worked. By the end of August, Newsweek magazine featured him on a cover with the headline: “Can anyone stop Howard Dean?”
The answer was “yes.” Howard Dean could stop Howard Dean, and he did so emphatically right after a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. In a post-vote appearance, his shirtsleeves rolled up to show he’s just like you and me, Dean yelled: “We’re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we’re going to California and Texas and New York. And we’re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we’re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House!”
He followed that with The Scream Heard Round The World. “Yeeeeeaaaaaahhhhh!”
That didn’t play well. “The scream scene was shown an estimated 633 times by cable and broadcast news networks in just four days following the incident,” Wikipedia reports.
At the time, Dean was sitting on a 30 percentage point lead in New Hampshire. He lost there to Kerry, and his campaign was over.
Enter Michael Bloomberg. The bazillionaire vaulted to the top of the pathetic Democratic heap soon after he entered the 2020 race, buoyed by the fact that his opponents were about as paltry a pack as could be assembled (a 78-year-old socialist led everyone, including a bumbling former vice president, a senator who repeatedly lied about being an American Indian, and a 38-year-old whose top achievement is being the mayor of a small Midwestern city).
Bloomberg spent more than $463 million in the first two months of his campaign, according to a report filed to the Federal Election Commission. In January alone, Bloomberg dumped $220 million of his own money into his campaign – an average of more than $7 million per day. Those expenditures included $126 million on TV ads and $45 million in online advertising.
Everything was coming up roses – until the billionaire made his first appearance last week at a Democratic debate.
In the first few minutes, after Bloomberg said Sanders had no chance of beating President Trump, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) got her first chance to speak.
“So I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “And, no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
Bloomberg rolled his eyes, but the damage was done.
At one point, Bloomberg said, “Fortunately, I make a lot of money, and we do business all around the world. … I can’t go to TurboTax.”
Throughout Bloomberg’s first debate, he was a deer in the headlights, saying at another point that he wouldn’t release nondisclosure agreements he signed with women who complained about him because they are “agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and that’s up to them. They signed those agreements, and we’ll live with it.”
In the era of #MeToo, not exactly the right answer.
It all went downhill from there.
But a billionaire doesn’t need to worry about much. (In a funny twist, pulling up the old clip of the Dean Yell led to an ad – in Spanish – from Bloomberg, who has been blanketing YouTube with advertisements.)
Bloomberg has an estimated net worth of $64 billion. That means his expenditures so far amount to just 0.7% of his fortune. His opponents are the weakest squad since Batman faced off with the Joker and the Riddler. He’s got the money to go the distance – a slew of other candidates are busy begging donors to pitch in – and he’s no political neophyte.
Still, few candidates have ever entered the realm of presidential politics as badly as Bloomberg.
Like Dean before him, Bloomberg is “going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we’re going to California and Texas and New York. And we’re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we’re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House!”
We’ll see if his campaign goes with him.
*Joseph Curl ran the Drudge Report from 2010 to 2014 and covered the White House for a dozen years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @JosephCurl. A version of this article ran previously in The Washington Times.