As of Tuesday, Michael Bloomberg had spent $233 million on digital and television ads. This spending purchased him, according to an impressive visualization from the Washington Post, 30,000 digital ads a minute. The billionaire candidate for the Democratic nomination has spent more on advertising than every other Democratic candidate combined. Bloomberg has also spent much more than President Trump, who has invested a relatively paltry $19 million in digital and TV ads.
One view of the 2016 election is that it was won by the candidate who had the superior mastery of Facebook — Trump, whose campaign did a now-legendary job of creating and iterating on direct-response ads that built up his email list and donor rolls while also continuously serving up red meat to his fan base. If you hold that view, you might look at Bloomberg’s campaign and wonder if this cycle’s Facebook power user and assume he was about to walk away with the nomination.
Bloomberg’s spending raised concerns among more progressive Democrats, who worried that a general election in which two extremely wealthy men competed against one another largely on the basis of their spending power represented another step down the road to authoritarian plutocracy. These concerns were amplified by Bloomberg’s shameless use of influencer marketing, which — thanks to Facebook’s rather confused rules on the subject — arguably allows him to skirt transparency and fact-checking requirements.
All of which made Wednesday’s Democratic debate, in which Bloomberg squared off against his rivals for the first time, feel like a critical moment. Would this be the stage on which Bloomberg, flush with cash and dominating social platforms and TV advertising, steamroll his rivals?