Trump vs. Bloomberg, more than a Twitter battle

President Donald Trump could hardly contain his glee: "WOW, BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST!" he tweeted to his millions of followers a week ago, the day of the New Hampshire presidential primary. The tweet leaked audio from 2015 in which Michael Bloomberg, former New York mayor and current Democratic rival for Trump's job, strongly defended the city's stop-and-frisk policing policy.

Before it was quickly taken down, the clip was originally posted by a liberal blogger on Monday night, aimed at reviving outrage over the aggressive policing tactics for which Bloomberg later apologized − as he was launching his presidential bid last fall. 

In the clip he can be heard saying that "the way you get the guns out of the kids' hands is to throw them up against the walls and frisk them." The former Republican also sounded defiant as he explained why the policy targeted minority kids in minority neighborhoods: "Because that's where all the crime is."

Bloomberg continued to defend stop-and-frisk after he left office in 2013. Early last year he attributed a decline in the city's murder rate to the policy, though the number of murders continued to decline despite the reduction in stops. 

Bloomberg? A racist? Look who's talking. 

As a candidate in late 2016, Trump called for a nationwide stop-and-frisk policy during an interview with Fox News, saying the program "worked very well" for New York City. "I think Chicago needs stop and frisk," he said in a "Fox & Friends" interview, although the more he rambled on about how "Chicago needs stop and frisk" and "tough law and order," the more it was apparent to me that he really didn't know much about the subject.

Positions like that begin to explain why a recent Washington Post-IPSOS poll found more than 8 in 10 black Americans believe Trump is a racist. Trump has good reason to try to deflect the racism charge onto Bloomberg or anybody else but himself.

In November, Bloomberg reversed his position, declaring, "I was wrong." Trump has not. Instead, he has repeatedly maligned New York, Chicago and some other cities that have dropped stop-and-frisk, even as they turned to more effective, less-disruptive crime-fighting methods.

Trump calls Bloomberg a racist? Pot, meet kettle. 

Trump has reason to feel unsettled by Bloomberg's rise. While Trump's bid to find dirt on previous front-runner Joe Biden led to impeachment, he now faces a potentially bigger threat to his presidency in Bloomberg. He is Biden without the same baggage. He's much wealthier than Trump. Trump knows media as a reality TV star, but Bloomberg founded one of the biggest media companies on the planet, which bears his name. Trump, a child of wealth, presents himself as self-made. Bloomberg really did pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

And both of these sons of Queens, NYC, have a generous supply of chutzpah that makes their Twitter battle sound like a WWE match. 

"Mini Mike Bloomberg is a LOSER who has money but can't debate and has zero presence, you will see," Trump tweeted Thursday, bringing to mind his shots at such Republican rivals as Jeb Bush, who Trump maligned as "low energy Jeb." Trump called Bloomberg a 5-foot-4 "mass of dead energy who does not want to be on the debate stage with these professional politicians." (Bloomberg is reportedly 5-foot-7, according to his medical records.)

Bloomberg, no slouch at Big Apple audacity, tweeted back: "We know many of the same people in NY. Behind your back they laugh at you & call you a carnival barking clown. They know you inherited a fortune & squandered it with stupid deals and incompetence." 

Smack! Twitter fans picked up the theme. "#carnivalbarkingclown" was soon trending. 

Students of Trump's style understand how these shenanigans have a purpose. A lot of voters come to the voting booth for the fight as much as for views on issues. They want to know, will this candidate fight for me? Trump wins many votes by standing ready and eager to fight for them. Bloomberg sounds ready and eager to fight Trump for them.

It is the mere prospect of a better president that boosted Bloomberg to third place in a new national Quinnipiac University poll a day before the New Hampshire primary, surging ahead of Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg to third place with 15%. Topping him were Bernie Sanders with 25% support and Joe Biden at 17%. Bloomberg has helped himself with a wave of TV and web advertising.

This battle of billionaires reminds me of an old African proverb: When elephants fight, the grass suffers. The grass is us, the voters, unless we hold all candidates to account on real issues.

Clarence Page's columns are distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

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