With just over a week left before Super Tuesday, Michael Bloomberg’s past is still coming back to haunt him. The billionaire’s entrance into the Democratic presidential primary has been met with a slew of criticism over his past comments and actions, from his controversial “stop and frisk” policy as New York City mayor and defense of redlining, to his history of misogynistic comments, non-disclosure agreements, and having referred to transgender people as “it.” On Monday, Bloomberg’s past yielded yet another controversy, as CNN published leaked audio of Bloomberg being interviewed at a private event hosted by Goldman Sachs in June 2016. The recording captures Bloomberg assuring his big banking “peeps” that his then-hypothetical presidential platform would protect their interests—and warning against his “scary” now-competitor Senator Elizabeth Warren and her progressive friends.
When asked about his decision not to run for president in 2016, Bloomberg told the Goldman employees, “Well, to start, my first campaign platform would be to defend the banks, and you know how well that’s gonna sell in this country.” (He added of the assembled financial crowd: “These are my peeps.”) “But seriously, somebody’s gotta stand up and do what we need,” Bloomberg continued. “A healthy banking system that’s going to take risks because that’s what creates the jobs for everybody. And nobody’s willing to say that.” The candidate, whose current campaign is now based around the selling point that he can beat President Donald Trump, went on to lament that political campaigns “really are about slogans and not about issues anymore. And in this election you’re going to see people are voting and they either love or hate, mostly hate both, but who you hate the least.” “That’s what they’re going to vote for,” Bloomberg opined. “And they’re not going to vote on issues.”
Later in the interview, Bloomberg answered a question about the rise of the far-right by instead interjecting his concerns about the progressive left, as emblematized by Warren. “The left is arising. The progressive movement is just as scary,” Bloomberg said, equating it with the far-right. “Elizabeth Warren on one side. And whoever you want to pick on the Republicans on the right side.” Bloomberg did, however, warn of the need to tackle income inequality, a signature issue for progressives like Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders—by emphasizing how a backlash against it could hurt the richer financial class. “Look at the income inequality,” Bloomberg said. “Anytime we’ve had this before, society blows up and they do set up the guillotines and the guillotines don’t have to be chop your head off. They could be confiscatory taxes, they could be seizing the endowments of uh, educational institutions and um, philanthropic organizations, all of which those proposals are out there.”
Warren also wasn’t the only Democrat that Bloomberg had harsh words for. The business leader, who was then an Independent, took aim at then-President Barack Obama in his Goldman Sachs remarks, criticizing his first term as president and saying that his endorsement of Obama in 2012 over Mitt Romney was “backhanded.” “The second Obama election I wrote a very backhanded endorsement of Obama,” Bloomberg said. “Saying I thought he hadn’t done the right thing, hadn’t done, hadn’t been good at things that I think are important and Romney would be a better person at doing that. But Romney did not stick with the values that he had when he was governor of Massachusetts.” The years-old Obama criticisms come as Bloomberg now attempts to paint the former president as an ally in his 2020 campaign ads—much to the chagrin of Obama administration alums, who remember Bloomberg’s relationship with Obama as much more in line with his 2016 comments. “I was triggered by the ad,” one former Obama official told my colleague Gabriel Sherman, while a Democratic donor recalled that “Mike would have dinner parties and piss all over Obama when he was president.”