Michael Bloomberg ended his presidential campaign on Wednesday after being walloped on Super Tuesday. But, according to more than a dozen members of his campaign staff, the former New York City mayor’s presidential dreams really died when Elizabeth Warren eviscerated his record on live television during the February 19 debate in Las Vegas.
Not a single Bloomberg staffer that I spoke to was surprised by the campaign’s implosion. Speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional reprisal and because of the campaign’s nondisclosure agreements—which The Nation obtained a leaked copy of in February—campaign employees cited that bruising debate as well as a general lack of enthusiasm for Bloomberg among the staff as main factors ending his presidential run.
“We could hardly get any volunteers…Ever since the first debate all of us faced a ton of hostility [when knocking on] doors,” one field organizer told me. “I once had a woman chase me back to my car demanding that I say you can’t buy the presidency.”
Several members of the campaign described Bloomberg’s debate as the beginning of the end. As another field organizer put it, “The people who liked Mike initially didn’t care about sexual [harassment] allegations or stop and frisk, but they got turned off because they thought he made himself look weak and that he had let Warren walk all over him.”
The person added, “I had to staff [a] debate watch party.… The whole bar was full of Bloombros. You could just feel everyone getting silent and awkward whenever Warren tore into Bloomberg.”
At the debate, Warren pressed Bloomberg with a pointed line of questioning about the NDAs that women who had accused him of sexual harassment had entered into and why he wouldn’t release them.
A third staffer also said that the debate marked a turning point, after which phone calls with voters became more difficult. “The day after [the debate] when we made calls people were like, ‘Oh yeah, I was thinking about him [Bloomberg], but I’m not really sure anymore.’”
Bloomberg’s performance, specifically his handling of Warren’s questions, even alienated the campaign’s volunteers. Of the volunteers that quit, one campaign employee told me, “Just about every one of them said it was because of the debate performance or the NDA scandals.”
Despite the debate, Bloomberg’s campaign seemed formidable, owing largely to its unprecedented ad spending. Bloomberg outspent all other campaigns combined on Google ads by a margin of more than $10 million, according to an analysis conducted by The Washington Post. By February, Bloomberg had aired seven times as many TV commercials as the previous top ad buyer, Mitt Romney in 2008, according to another Post analysis.
But despite an almost limitless budget, the Bloomberg campaign would learn that money can’t buy loyalty. Staffers described an almost total lack of belief in Bloomberg himself. “Most people knew this was a grift,” one campaign official explained, describing even leadership as being unwilling to fulfill basic campaign responsibilities. “At our first office meeting, [my director] said, ‘We don’t need to canvass. We can just make calls, right guys?’ And everyone was like, ‘Yeah, that’s sensible.’”
Another employee who specialized in social media explained how their coworkers’ lack of enthusiasm resulted in lackluster engagement with social media audiences, which often led to tweets so perfunctory—many would just copy and paste campaign talking points—that their Twitter accounts would get mistakenly flagged as spam and suspended.
Multiple people described elaborate schemes to undermine the campaign and help their favored candidates. As one staffer explained, “I would actively canvass for Bernie when I was supposed to be canvassing for Mike. I know of at least one team of ‘volunteers’ that was entirely fabricated by the organizers who had to hit their goals. It was easy enough to fudge the data to make it look like real people put in real volunteer work, when in reality Mike was getting nothing out of it.”
Another staffer told me, “In San Diego, the regional organizers also exploited the campaign’s resources, staff, and infrastructure for local races they either were running in or consulting on.”
While the campaign had ambitious quotas for things like phone calls or doors, some staffers simply faked their numbers. “Many campaign staffers—including myself—had to juke the stats in order to keep up with these impossible goals,” one explained.
However, MaryAnne Pintar, the campaign’s San Diego regional political director, said she never saw anything of the sort. “The person quoted can only speak to their own work if they falsified reports,” she said. “I never witnessed that, nor did I see resources used inappropriately. This campaign started late; some consultants were already working on other campaigns and were made offers commensurate with capacity, with the understanding they’d be working with other clients, too. The person quoted anonymously may not know this.”
While most Bloomberg campaign employees who spoke to The Nation recalled being critical of Bloomberg from the very beginning, one was more sympathetic, citing Bloomberg’s climate change policies and desire to shrink the Pentagon budget. But he remarked, “The campaign truly made me jaded…. I’m never going to sell my soul again.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a quote from the Bloomberg campaign’s San Diego regional director.