Bloomberg Says 2020 Rivals Criticizing His Fortune Could Have Made Their Own

Bloomberg Says 2020 Rivals Criticizing His Fortune Could Have Made Their Own

Michael R. Bloomberg on Friday brushed back critiques about his wealth and bristled at the suggestion that he was using it to buy success in the 2020 presidential race, arguing that other Democrats who have complained about his entry into their party’s primary could have taken it upon themselves to earn their own personal fortunes, as he had done.

In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Mr. Bloomberg’s first since he announced his presidential campaign, the billionaire and former mayor of New York City rejected the idea that he had an unfair advantage, saying that while other candidates asked donors for money to help their campaigns, he had made his money himself and then given most of it away.

“I turn and they’re criticizing me for it,” he said. “They had a chance to go out and make a lot of money. And how much of their own money do they put into their campaigns?”

“I’m doing exactly the same thing they’re doing, except that I am using my own money,” he added. “They’re using somebody else’s money and those other people expect something from them. Nobody gives you money if they don’t expect something. And I don’t want to be bought.”

The interview with Mr. Bloomberg, 77, covered a wide range of topics, including the candidate’s recent apology for having defended so called stop-and-frisk policing as mayor of New York. Asked about the timing of his about-face, Mr. Bloomberg asserted that “nobody asked me about it until I started running for president.”

And discussing his reasons for entering the race, he said he worried that if other Democrats faced off against President Trump in a general election, Mr. Trump would “eat ’em up’’ — before amending his answer and saying he thought he had the best chance of winning. And asked whether his longtime companion, Diana Taylor, would be a “de facto” first lady, he said he had been living with Ms. Taylor for 19 years, which would not change if he became president.

In addressing his wealth and the way he has deployed it to help him play catch-up after his late entry into the race, Mr. Bloomberg confronted the central critique of his candidacy that his Democratic rivals have deployed early on: that he is seeking to “buy” the election and the presidency. Mr. Bloomberg, who built a successful financial information and media company, spent more than $30 million on his first week of advertising as a candidate last month — far more than the entire rest of the Democratic field spent that week.

For months, progressive candidates like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have criticized billionaires, saying the rich have not paid their fair share in taxes and proposing a tax on wealth to help pay for the wide-ranging government programs they have pledged to install if elected.

Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders, two of the leading candidates in the race, have shunned high-dollar fund-raising events, instead fueling their campaigns through smaller contributions from grass-roots supporters and making the argument that such a strategy prevents them from being influenced by wealthy donors.

Ms. Warren took aim at another top-tier candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., on Thursday night, calling on him to open his fund-raising events to the news media. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the leader in national polling of the primary contest, has allowed members of the news media to attend his private fund-raisers.

In his interview, Mr. Bloomberg said he did not come from money and noted that his “father made $6,000 the best year of his life.”

“Nobody gave me a head start,” he said.

Still, the power of money in elections has been on full display in the 2020 race, as candidates have scrambled to meeting donation and polling thresholds in order to qualify for the Democratic National Committee’s televised debates. Another billionaire, Tom Steyer, got into the race relatively late but has spent millions of dollars of his own money on advertising and other resources that have helped him become one of just six people in a 15-person field to qualify for the debate this month.

The surprise departure this week of Senator Kamala Harris of California from the race has forced the Democratic Party to grapple with the possibility of having only white candidates on the stage in Los Angeles and prompted some candidates of color — like Senator Cory Booker and the former housing secretary Julián Castro — to sound an alarm about the diversity of the field.

Asked about his own level of concern on that topic, Mr. Bloomberg said “lots of people can enter.”

“If you wanted to enter and run for president of the United States, you could have done that. But don’t complain to me that you’re not in the race. It was up to you,” he said. “I thought there was a lot of diversity in the group of Democratic aspirants. Entry is not a barrier.”

He also told his interviewer, Gayle King of CBS, that he had been drawn into the race because he had watched the other Democratic candidates in the large field and thought to himself: “Donald Trump would eat ’em up” — a comment he walked back moments later.

“Let me rephrase it,” he said. “I think that I would do the best job of competing with him and beating him.”

The interview aired one day after Mr. Bloomberg released a sweeping plan on gun control, putting an issue on which he has a long record at the center of his emerging candidacy. He said Friday that the National Rifle Association, whose leadership has been in turmoil, “has basically been beaten.”

“You don’t have to go talk to them at all,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg’s gun-control plan, which calls for a national gun licensing system and stricter background checks, among a host of other measures, represents some of the most left-leaning views of a candidate who is something of an ideological moderate. Mr. Bloomberg described himself in the interview as “a social liberal, fiscal moderate, who is basically nonpartisan.”

Mr. Bloomberg, who was elected mayor first as a Republican and then as an independent, and who registered as a Democrat more recently, has also given millions of dollars to Republicans who he felt shared his goals.

He delivered a speech just before kicking off his campaign in which he apologized for the controversial stop-and-frisk policing tactics that he defended as mayor.

In the interview, Ms. King pressed him on his assertion that “nobody” had asked him about his position on the tactics until he began his presidential run. He responded by once again expressing remorse.

“I’m sorry. I apologize,” he said. “Let’s go fight the N.R.A.”

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