1:14 pm Feb. 27, 2013
A conversation with Salon political writer and MSNBC co-host Steve Kornacki about Michael Bloomberg's super PAC, which just helped pro-gun control Democratic candidate Robin Kelly to a lopsided primary victory in a special election for a Chicago-based House seat.
Steve: Do you think after this big win in Illinois that Bloomberg junks the centrist stuff and just makes this a gun-control super PAC?
Josh: As my colleague Reid Pillifant wrote yesterday, that's the big question, in terms of Bloomberg's future as a power broker in national politics. I don't think anyone knows the answer.
On one hand someone he trusts could have a gentle word with him, like, You're not posing as an independent presidential candidate anymore and you made your point about the inanity of partisan gridlock in Washington. But gridlock isn't going anywhere, whatever you do, whereas you can actually make a massive difference on guns. You can go down in history as the guy who tipped the balance of power away from the gun lobby at a crucial moment in history. but your organization is never going to be a counterweight to the N.R.A. if it's for gun control except when it isn't. The N.R.A.'s commitment on this issue isn't part-time—they're certainly not going to get slowed down by any conerns as delicate as whether they appear to favor Republicans.
And he might listen.
On the other hand Bloomberg is a rich guy who likes who he likes. I don't think he'll want to preclude the option, next time he's faced with a Warren-Brown-type race in which a woman he seems to detest (for reasons having nothing to do with guns) faces a guy he kinds of likes doing business with, of just giving money to the person he likes better.
Bloomberg's situation here defies rational analysis, since it all comes down to: What will this incredibly wealthy man be in the mood to do with his money after leaving office?
￼Steve: Right, and I guess Sandy Hook is the variable. When he launched the super PAC, no one (else) was talking about guns, so it could be one of his five pet issues. But now there's this potentially huge role for him to play. Kind of makes me think this big win could narrow his focus.￼
Josh: I guess that's the thing about having unlimited money, though. It just may not occur to Bloomberg to impose restraints on himself that way, anymore than he's going to narrow the scope of his philanthropic giving. It's never been an either-or thing before him, as far as I know.
I also think he'll have a hard time letting go of the antipartisan conceit. His fix-Washington rhetoric may have been at its most intense leading up to and during the last election, but Bloomberg's disdain for parties has been a real part of his political persona for as long as he's been a politician. In his experience, they're nothing but a nuisance, to be defeated or temporarily co-opted.
There's no getting around the fact that if he decides to become a genuine counterweight to the NRA it will mean supporting many more Democrats than Republicans, and saying goodbye to the partisan even-handedness he seems to see as an expression of his core political principles. It would be kind of a big deal, in that he'd be admitting that whatever formula he's been following for the last few years is no longer operative.
That said, it was a pretty impressive win in Chicago.
Steve: A couple things about that:
1. We'll never know how much effect his money actually had. I mean, Debbie Halvorson [the relatively pro-gun candidate Bloomberg targeted] ran in the Democratic primary against Jesse Jackson last year, when he was under serious fire for all the ethics stuff, and she barely broke 20 percent. So maybe this was always going to be lopsided and Bloomberg's money only boosted the margin slightly. But he probably did play a major role in getting Hutchinson out and consolidating anti-Halvorson support behind Kelly. And the bottom line is this will be interpreted by the press and political world as being all about gun control and gun control money, so Bloomberg obviously gets what he wants.
2. Will this formula work in less urban/Democratic districts? I mean, even pre-Sandy Hook, gun control was a winner on the South Side of Chicago. What about a more competitive district, in a general election? Would Bloomberg stick to guns as the issue to attack, or will he begin more regularly to hit the pro-NRA candidates with tough, effective attack ads that have nothing to do with guns?
3. Still as curious as you to see whether this focuses him on being Mr. Gun Control, or if he sticks to the post-partisan stuff. He can continue to do both, but that may mean he's never entirely effective at either.