So Bloomberg’s team walked him back to where the other candidates were, and shoved him in with everyone else. But Warren and Klobuchar held on to each other, pulling through the crowd at one point. Buttigieg attached himself to Sharpton. The billionaire in the suit with the thread count so high you could see it was left without his fellow presidential contenders once again, accompanied by people who had joined him in church, including Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin. “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around,” the crowd started to sing, and Bloomberg began to move, sort of, shuffling along in his black tasseled loafers. A woman called out to ask him to fund a museum for one of the women who’d led the Bloody Sunday march. He didn’t seem to hear her.
A top aide assessed the chaos, the way Bloomberg was getting bumped around, and offered to pull him out and take him to his waiting plane.
“We don’t have to do it,” he told Bloomberg. The candidate dismissed that immediately. “We have to go over the bridge,” he said. His staff pulled him forward. Tom Steyer’s wife, Kat Taylor, had just finished singing an Aretha Franklin song, and Steyer, who’d driven six hours overnight from South Carolina after dropping out the day before the gathering, was on the mic talking about how he wanted everyone to know that he supports reparations.
Bloomberg pushed ahead. He went over the bridge.
The first time I wrote a story taking Bloomberg’s presidential plans seriously was in October 2007. He was gearing up to run as an independent. I talked with then-outgoing Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska about him possibly being Bloomberg’s running mate, and didn’t get a no. Moderates and independents were having visions of a candidate who could appeal across the usual political divisions, and of an unlimited spending bonanza. Some were speculating about what Kevin Sheekey and Patti Harris, then Bloomberg’s top advisers (and still riding on the plane with him yesterday), would be able to pull off at the national level. Bloomberg’s team talked about laying low until late in the race, then having him come in as a potential savior. “The country’s in big trouble and someone’s got to pull it out,” I quoted Bloomberg saying at the time.
Read: The Bloomberg whisperer
In 2016, Bloomberg again worked up a whole plan to run as an independent, and to try to force a split Electoral College so that the House of Representatives would get to pick the president instead. But four years ago, almost to the day, he pulled the plug at the last minute, deciding that it wouldn’t work. “It weighed on him,” one person who was involved told me at the time, “but at the end of the day, the fact that this was probably the last shot wasn’t enough to make him want to do it.”
He then decided he actually had one last last shot. Somehow, everything about politics has changed, and he showed up this time as a Democrat, telling Democrats what he thought Democrats should do, but not knowing quite what to do when they fired back.