I was sitting in Primanti’s restaurant in the Market Square section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s an iconic local restaurant, known for sandwiches with coleslaw and fries packed between Mancini’s Italian bread, and also known for Iron City beer. At Primanti’s, one can feel the pulse of the Steel City, of the Rustbelt—which Donald Trump won in 2016.
I was sitting there with my 12-year-old son. We had just escaped “The Nutcracker,” leaving my wife and three daughters to finish the rest of the sleepy performance. Gazing up at the large TV screen at Primanti’s, I caught something almost as eye-opening as the Arabian Dance (note: I said almost). Rudely interrupting the blue-collar ambience was a well-heeled New Yorker, Michael Bloomberg, who insisted on subverting the heavenly smell of smashed fries and coleslaw with a stinky campaign ad. This is the campaign to convince Americans that the ex-mayor and ongoing billionaire should be president of the United States.
The ad, unnoticed by a room of commoners more interested in their beers and cheesesteaks, is a testimony to how out of touch the former New York mayor is with people outside New York City.
The ad, part of Bloomberg’s $100 million-plus TV blitz for that month alone, touted how “Mike” was ready to take on everything from guns to coal. The screen beamed an April 2018 blurb from (fittingly) The New Yorker magazine: “Michael Bloomberg Takes on the Coal Industry.” The audio voiceover boasted that the New Yorker had helped “shut down hundreds” of coal plants—no doubt a big winner among West Virginians and Southwestern Pennsylvanians. Big Mike was ready to “beat Big Coal.” Like several Bloomberg ads, it took aim at “the coal lobby,” running footage of a manufacturing plant that could be a steel plant anywhere in the Pittsburgh region. All Bloomberg’s ads promise job gains while targeting the very industries where men in our region seek job security. The ads would work in Seattle, San Francisco, or Manhattan, but not in coal and steel country.
Again, this ad ran in a region where people depend upon jobs precisely in these industries Bloomberg is targeting. What’s next for Bloomberg’s campaign? Ads railing against “Big Oil” in Texas? Big agriculture in the Midwest?
The whole spectacle reveals Michael Bloomberg’s tone-deafness, especially in trying to reach people with no clue about him.
One wonders what the Big Apple mayor would do if he strolled into Primanti’s for a photo-op. Picture the scene: The little fella introduces himself as “Mike” before pulling out a white-cloth napkin and barking at the waitress to remove the blasted fries from his sandwich and pass the Grey Poupon. Iron City? Bring me a Dom Perignon! And turn off that noisy football game!
And yet, every four years, slick Mike Bloomberg deigns to grace us rubes in the Hinterland with the exciting prospect of voting for him for president—assuming we slack-jawed folk even know who he is.
Well, Bloomberg is trying to convince us otherwise, and he has billions of dollars to wine and dine us. But judging from the scene at places like Primanti’s in Pittsburgh, I doubt he’ll succeed.
Michael Bloomberg’s prospects for 2020 are about as good as they were any other year. He’s a New York man. He might get votes of New Yorkers, but not those of coal and steel country, nor a much wider swath of America that will see him as a pompous Manhattan snob.