Earlier this week, former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg faced renewed scrutiny for his support of stop and frisk after resurfaced audio from several years ago revealed his racially-motivated attitude toward the unconstitutional policing practice. In the days since, things have seemingly accelerated on every front for the Bloomberg presidential campaign, with staffers trying to do damage control over Bloomberg's former policies and resurfaced comments, Bloomberg trading insults with Trump over Twitter, and the campaign hiring influencers and meme-makers to blanket social media with pro-Bloomberg material.
Let's start with that last thing first: as the NY Times reported today, the Bloomberg campaign has begun working with the newly-formed company Meme 2020, which is made up of "some of the people behind extremely influential accounts." That includes lead strategist Mick Purzycki, who is also the chief executive of Jerry Media, a.k.a. FuckJerry, the advertising/social media agency that was instrumental in promoting the disastrous Fyre Fest, even though they allegedly knew in advance it was turning into disaster (the company has also been accused of stealing comedians' content).
Another Jerry Media/FuckJerry creative director, Evan Reeves, was brought in to lead the campaign by building "a self-aware ironic character around Mr. Bloomberg." Here's some of the major accounts involved with it:
Memers involved with Meme 2020 include: @MyTherapistSays, @WhitePeopleHumor, @TheFunnyIntrovert, @KaleSalad, @Sonny5ideUp, @Tank.Sinatra, @ShitheadSteve, @adam.the.creator, @moistbudda, @MrsDowJones, @TrashCanPaul, @cohmedy, @NeatDad, @FourTwenty, @GolfersDoingThings, @DrGrayFang, @MiddleClassFancy and @DoYouEvenLift. Together, the collective has an audience of more than 60 million followers.
Not every meme-creator is on board. The Fat Jewish wrote an Instagram response explaining his reasons for not going along with it.
And a BuzzFeed staffer is using their personal account to do sponcon for Bloomberg as well, which is apparently allowed, according to publisher Dao Nguyen.
Although the Meme 2020 campaign launched this week, this isn't the first time Bloomberg's campaign has tried to use social media to his advantage to create "viral" moments. Bloomberg's official campaign Twitter account has taken to posting "funny" content as counter-programming to the Democratic debates, which Bloomberg has not participated in so far. They tried to turn videos of Bloomberg awkwardly mishandling a dog into a thing. And last week, the Daily Beast reported that the campaign was offering influencers $150 to create content to support Bloomberg through Tribe, a “branded content marketplace” that connects influencers with brands.
Hand-in-hand with these tactics, The Intercept reports Bloomberg has been hiring "armies of staffers and canvassers in nearly every state in the country at eye-popping salaries," taking talent from other campaigns and organizations that are now struggling to fill jobs. He's apparently hired thousands of people to staff more than 125 offices around the country.
Bloomberg has spent more than $300 million of his own money since entering the campaign, with millions of dollars going toward political ads on television and social media as well; according to NBC, he's spent more than $1 million a day on average over the past two weeks on Facebook alone, five times more than Trump spent during that period. All of the ads Bloomberg has been placing on Fox News, in particular, seems to have gotten to Trump, who tweeted multiple times about Bloomberg this morning. "Mini Mike Bloomberg is a LOSER who has money but can’t debate and has zero presence," he said in the first tweet, comparing Bloomberg to former rival Jeb Bush. Bloomberg then responded to his second tweet, as you can see below.
Bloomberg also used Trump's tweets to his advantage while campaigning in North Carolina this morning, saying that Trump “calls me little Mike. My answer is Donald, where I come from we measure height from the neck up.” We've contacted Bloomberg's campaign to see if anyone can explain what that means, and will update if we hear back. Some of Bloomberg's senior advisors have also taken to Twitter to defend Bloomberg from criticisms. "The 'height thing' actually doesn’t bother Mike, Maggie," Tim O'Brien, senior advisor to Bloomberg, tweeted at NY Times reporter Maggie Haberman. "Size matters to Trump. But it’s the size of the deficit, the size of Trump’s ego, and the scale of our Constitutional crisis that do actually bother Mike."
As all this has played out on social media, Bloomberg has continued to try to contain his stop-and-frisk comments (he never expressed regret for the unconstitutional policing strategy until entering the presidential race three months ago), which was detailed in a new Politico article. It gives a glimpse into the high-speed response needed to combat the virality of Bloomberg's comments, in which he can be heard saying, "The way you get the guns out of the kids' hands is to throw them against the wall and frisk them."
Inside Bloomberg's sprawling Manhattan headquarters, his team sprung to action: Emails started flying before sunrise about how to respond. Strategies about how to handle President Donald Trump’s tweet calling him a “total racist” were debated. And staffers gathered for a morning meeting worried about how to manage black surrogates and supporters whose endorsements were to be rolled out that week.
Leaders for Bloomberg’s black and Latino constituency teams gathered on a call with staffers spread across the country to get ahead of the news and calm their nerves. They talked about Bloomberg’s evolution from high-profile defender to deeply apologetic critic of “stop and frisk,” sources familiar with the exchange told POLITICO. Advisers to the former New York City mayor distributed talking points that catalogued his work on economic opportunity and racial justice.
Notably, Harlem pastor Calvin Butts helped explain why so many continue to stand by Bloomberg, noting that Bloomberg’s "financial support of causes important to black New Yorkers" helps alleviate concerns about his policing record. “He used his money, which is one of the reasons I continue to support him, to express his sincerity,” Butts said.
As the New Republic wrote today, it wasn't just that Bloomberg was voicing a belief that poor neighborhoods needed more policing, a belief which is shared by politicians on both sides of the aisle—it's that "they needed a specific method of policing that is inherently invasive and indifferent to the rights of its targets. They needed to be targeted based on their race and humiliated."
As the Politico article articulates, the campaign is hoping that all the ads, the social media push, and the renewed name-calling with Trump will kick the stop-and-frisk controversy out of the spotlight. But last night another old clip resurfaced. In this one, Bloomberg is heard saying in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, that getting rid of "redlining," the racist strategy used by the government and banks to deny mortgage loans to black Americans, was to blame for the collapse.
In a statement to AP, campaign spokesman Stu Loeser said that Bloomberg “attacked predatory lending” as mayor and if elected president, plans to “help a million more Black families buy a house, and counteract the effects of redlining and the subprime mortgage crisis.” There was, notably, no apology offered.
We've contacted Loeser to ask whether Bloomberg stands by his comments from 2008, and whether he believes in a restorative justice approach for victims of stop-and-frisk, and will update if we hear back.
In the meantime, revisit the only good viral Bloomberg campaign moment.