President Trump insisted this week that he would rather face-off against Michael Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders in the general election, echoing progressive Democrats' complaints that the three-time New York City mayor and billionaire is trying to buy the primary nomination.
Despite pure glee among some Republicans at the prospect of Trump, who's campaigning on the strength of the U.S. economy, running against a self-avowed democratic socialist in November, Trump expressed some concern about the devotion of Sanders' followers.
"Frankly, I would rather run against Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders," he told reporters on Wednesday. "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 he says — but he has followers."
The loyalty that Sanders commands has transformed his anti-establishment campaign into a financial juggernaut, boosting him to first place nationally in an average of polls published by RealClearPolitics on the heels of his victory in New Hampshire and tie with Pete Buttigieg in Iowa. Those same polls show him besting Trump by an average 4.3 percent and Bloomberg beating the president by 6 percent.
One of the richest men in the world, Bloomberg is powering his unorthodox campaign with his vast personal fortune, already pouring $344 million into blanketing the airwaves with ads, according to ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. His unprecedented strategy to skip the four early-voting states and instead concentrate on the slew of delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday means that his campaign is so far untested.
Bloomberg's successful advertising blitz, which spurred his sudden surge to third place in some national polls, has sparked outcry from fellow Democrats, as well as Trump.
"Bloomberg is just buying his way in," he told reporters on Tuesday.
Bloomberg could appear on the debate stage for the first time in Las Vegas next week, after the Democratic National Committee changed its qualifying rules to drop the requirement that a candidate must ascertain a certain number of unique donors, prompting complaints from his 2020 rivals. Trump maintained that Bloomberg is "one of the worst debaters I've ever seen."
"His presence is zero," he said.
Trump's criticism of Bloomberg came after progressive podcast host Benjamin Dixon uncovered audio of a speech that the 77-year-old mayor delivered in 2015, during which he defended "stop and frisk," the controversial policing strategy that disproportionately targeted men of color. In the audio clip, Bloomberg acknowledged that "stop and frisk" targeted minority "kids" whom cops must throw "up against the wall" to disarm.
"Ninety-five percent of murders -- murderers and murder victims -- fit one M.O.," he said. "You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That's true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city … And that's where the real crime is."
In a since-deleted tweet on Tuesday, Trump -- who has previously praised "stop and frisk" -- condemned Bloomberg as a "RACIST." He would not condemn the practice on Tuesday, but knocked Bloomberg for being disingenuous.
"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," he said.