When Michael Bloomberg was a nine-year-old boy in Massachusetts, his spiritual godfather died 3,000 miles away in a Beverly Hills mansion with his longtime mistress by his side.
One of the richest and most powerful men in the world, William Randolph Hearst built a media empire across the country and then tried to leverage it into winning the hearts of voters. Serving two terms as a New York Congressman, Hearst couldn’t get further, losing two races for mayor and one for governor. And long before there were presidential caucuses or primaries, there were smoke-filled rooms where Hearst was unable to push his name forward with Democratic fixers as a presidential or vice presidential candidate.
Like Bloomberg, Hearst wasn’t a natural politician and relied on “paid media” – his own newspapers – to push his cause. (And Hearst likely would have won the mayoralty in 1905 if the Democratic machine hadn’t engaged in massive fraud.)
But Hearst’s ultimate failure should have been a valuable lesson to Bloomberg that money and media can’t buy you everything. Being the king of your own castle is very different from becoming the King of America. Perhaps if Bloomberg were a more skilled debater his campaign would still be afloat but it’s more likely that voters were more attracted to someone who resembles their uncle than someone who disdainfully invites them to the compay holiday party.
Bloomberg extrapolated his perfect storm win of 2001 into a White House pipe dream of 2020. He still has a role to play in the presidential race – but it will be from the sidelines. Hearst could have warned him this was coming.