President Donald Trump on Tuesday insisted that he’d rather run against Mike Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders in the general election this November, amplifying complaints from Democrats that the billionaire former mayor of New York was buying his way into contention in the primary field.
During a screed about Bloomberg in the Oval Office, the president ripped his recent apology about New York’s stop-and-frisk policy as “disingenuous” and called the former mayor a “lightweight.”
Despite salivating at the chance to run against a democratic socialist in the general, Trump on Tuesday expressed some sense of worry about Sanders’ devoted following, suggesting that Bloomberg’s rising support would not be as unwavering.
“Frankly, I would rather run against Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders,” he told reporters, “because Sanders has real followers, whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not — I happen to think it’s terrible what [Sanders] says.”
He added: “Bloomberg is just buying his way in.”
Bloomberg has poured hundreds of millions of his personal fortune into his last-minute presidential campaign and has seen that investment pay off in the form of a steady climb in recent polling. One national poll released on Monday put Bloomberg in third place, just behind former Vice President Joe Biden.
Bloomberg’s unconventional campaign — he is taking an unprecedented gamble by skipping the first four early-voting states and staking his candidacy on the chunk of delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday — means that his candidacy has thus far been untested.
The success of Bloomberg’s heavy focus on advertising over the retail-politics-heavy early states has sparked an outcry from his Democratic rivals that echoes Trump’s accusations of trying to buy the presidency.
Bloomberg could potentially appear on a debate stage for the first time next week after the Democratic National Committee changed its qualifying rules to drop its grassroots fundraising requirement, prompting complaints that the committee had changed the rules for Bloomberg since he is not accepting any donations for his bid.
Trump indicated that the former mayor could be finally exposed on the debate stage, calling him “one of the worst debaters I’ve ever seen.”
“His presence is zero. He will spend his three, four, $500 million,” he continued, adding: “We will find out what happens.”
Trump’s rant about Bloomberg was prompted by a years-old audio clip that began circulating Monday night on social media. In the audio, Bloomberg appears to defend the stop-and-frisk policing practice he instituted as mayor.
The tactic has disproportionately affected black and Latino men and has been widely denounced by critics as a civil rights violation, but it was only in November that the former mayor apologized for implementing the practice — about a month before launching his presidential bid.
Trump has increasingly hit Bloomberg as he has risen in polling, though the attacks have mostly mocked the former mayor’s height or criticized the attack ads Bloomberg has blanketed the airwaves with.
But with the leak of the stop-and-frisk audio, Trump escalated his attacks further, calling Bloomberg “RACIST” in a since-deleted tweet, and suggesting to reporters at the White House that the former mayor’s contrition about the policy stemmed from political expediency.
Interesting that @realDonaldTrump deleted this tweet accusing @MikeBloomberg of being a “total racist” and didn’t repost (which he often does if there’s an error he wants to fix)— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) February 11, 2020
The dead link is here: https://t.co/JlD9tSm22M…
Photo of the tweet 👇 pic.twitter.com/zM0Db87ls2
Trump, who called for stop-and-frisk to be instituted nationwide during his 2016 campaign, would not condemn the practice and instead needled Bloomberg for being “disingenuous.”
“I support anything that we can do to get down crime and get rid of drugs,” he told reporters in the Oval Office when asked about his support for the policy.
Turning to Bloomberg, Trump explained: “I think when a man is with stop-and-frisk his whole life, and then he decides to go Democrat, and he goes to a church, and he is practically crying — he looked like hell — he is practically crying, saying what a horrible thing he did. I think that’s so disingenuous.”
“When you watch — go back to the church where he apologized for everything he ever did, practically,” he continued. “And he looked pathetic. Our country doesn’t need that kind of leadership.”
Trump on Tuesday also took several shots at Bloomberg’s other rivals for the Democratic nomination, offering his routine assessment of the fluid field hours before the polls closed in the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.
“I think we will have a very interesting Democrat race,” Trump said.
“One percent Joe” Biden, he teased, was not out of contention yet, despite a dismal finish in the Iowa caucuses and what looks to be another disappointing performance in New Hampshire.
“I think he can turn it around, yeah. I think he has a shot,” Trump said. “He’s got probably almost as good a shot as anyone, but he is going to have to work. He is going to have to work very hard, much harder than they thought.”