Michael Huttner has spent decades in the trenches of progressive politics. In the mid-2000s, he co-founded ProgressNow, a network of state-level liberal communications hubs that has 23 chapters and 4 million members and acts as a counterweight to right-wing think tanks and activist groups. In 2010, he organized one of the earliest meetings to push for the full decriminalization of marijuana in Colorado, setting in motion one of the first successful campaigns anywhere in America to legalize pot. He’s worked on Democratic political campaigns, ran the lefty PR agency Fenton, and most recently launched a cannabis-industry consulting firm.
On a personal level, Huttner is a climate hawk who supports a single-payer health insurance model and backed marriage equality well before the broader public came around to it. He once told an interviewer he could never marry a conservative. He did his undergrad at Brown, went to law school in San Francisco, and now lives in Boulder, Colorado, a troika of ultraliberal bastions.
Last month, Huttner surprised some of his progressive friends when he endorsed Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign. Why would a lifelong progressive back a candidate who had only recently joined the Democratic Party, who had used and defended racially discriminatory policies as mayor of New York, and who was spending ungodly sums of money to buy his way into the top tier of the presidential race?
I called up Huttner and asked if he would talk about why he supported Bloomberg. We spoke by phone last Friday and again on Monday.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Why are you supporting Bloomberg?
Right after Trump got elected, I wrote a book with [Daily Kos founder] Markos Moulitsas, The Resistance Handbook, which offered 45 ways to fight Trump. The first chapter of the book talks about how we have to frame Trump in order to make sure he’s a one-term president. It’s that he has been weak and he’s gonna lose. That he’s a loser.
The issue with progressives, with many of my colleagues, is that they keep reinforcing him by saying he’s such a dictator, such an authoritarian. Words that make him sound strong. My whole point is you’ve got to frame him as weak and likely to lose.
Why is it important to frame him that way?
It’s that old saying going back thousands of years — what you say is what becomes. I’ve never lost an election that I’ve worked on, me along with the current governor (of Colorado), Jared Polis. We’ve worked on a lot of elections over the years. Going back to 2000, we’ve always won. The ProgressNow model was about how we’d frame people — a message of holding Republicans accountable. In this case, we need to hold Trump accountable.
After the Trump book, I stepped back. I’ve been working in the cannabis industry. At the end of last year, I went to Costa Rica with my family, then stayed another week and went to a meditation retreat. I left that retreat with this conclusion: The only person who will beat Trump is Bloomberg. That’s the conclusion I came to. It was almost night and day.
I like all of the folks who are still in the race. but there’s no single issue that to me is more important than all of the other issues combined — and that’s who’s going to beat Trump.
My clear conclusion is that Bloomberg is strong, he seems super-organized, they’re building like crazy. And that’s why you see Trump starting to attack Bloomberg more and more, because they really think he’s a force to be reckoned with. Trump miscalculated. He got the early read that the single biggest threat to him was Biden. Bloomberg will beat the crap out of [Trump].
You’re making an electability argument here. Can you dig a bit deeper into why you think Bloomberg is the one who can beat Trump?
Because what people really want is strength, and quite frankly he’s building an unprecedented campaign solely focused on not having a lot of fighting right now. His focus is to win the general.
They have the resources and he has the credentials. He’s a self-made billionaire who is 10 times more successful than Trump. Trump is one-tenth the success of Bloomberg. That’s why you’re starting to see Trump go after him more and more. He went after Biden, now he’s going to start going after Bloomberg because he’s scared of him.
Bloomberg deals with billionaires. He’s not scared of Trump; he’s going to beat the crap out of Trump.
My expertise is really in the states. When I look at (the race), I was really looking at key states. Obviously I know Colorado well, but also Michigan, Florida. That’s where I think you have these now fairly sophisticated teams that (Bloomberg’s campaign) is setting up pretty quickly. In Colorado they’ve hired 75 people just in the past two months. When you look at it state by state and you look at the investment in these states, that’s what really matters.
Why not Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders? Do you think they can’t beat Trump?
[My decision] was entirely based on who has the best odds of beating Trump. When I came to the conclusion that it was Bloomberg, I didn’t have to go issue by issue, vote by vote.
I like them all. Their individual votes and statements pale in comparison to what’s most important to progressives: beating Trump. Bloomberg is strong, his team is super-organized, and I believe he’s going to be the one to beat Trump in November.
Bloomberg has rightly faced a lot of criticism for his use of stop-and-frisk as mayor, for apparently describing a woman as a “horsey-faced lesbian,” for using NDAs to silence women who made sexual harassment allegations. How do you respond to progressives who say these things make Bloomberg an unacceptable nominee?
He’s definitely made mistakes in the past. And it seems to me that he’s genuine in his apology and he’s actually willing to listen and learn from folks. I think we’re seeing that in the cannabis space and elsewhere. To me, I think he needs to continue to listen, to evolve, especially on a lot of federal issues, because he hasn’t been a D.C. politician.
But the most important thing to keep in mind is this: All of these candidates, their strengths and weaknesses, the number-one question is who is going to beat Trump. As much as a lot of these issues are important, that’s the most important one.
My progressive friends say: ‘How about this issue? Or this incident?’ You know what? I’m not arguing with the issues. I’m like, ‘No, I hear you,’ and look, I’m more progressive than most on the issues, but the most important thing to me is that Trump loses.
Do you believe that Bloomberg, once in office, will feel that pressure to work with progressives and follow through on his progressive campaign pledges?
Let me give you an example. I’m very engaged in the cannabis industry. I helped pull together the first meeting to get adult-use legalized (in Colorado) back in 2010.
I’ve been getting a lot of calls from my cannabis-industry colleagues. I’ve been sharing them with the campaign. I’m just a co-chair. I don’t get paid. I’m doing this because I believe it. Already, we’re starting to see Bloomberg and the top people around him become more educated on the industry. The more they get educated, the better for everybody. In the past, to be fair, he hasn’t been great on some of our issues.
The way to do this is we’ve gotta help him, support him, get him there, then we’ll be able to have a real dialogue with him. He’s a science guy, a research guy; he’ll learn there’s a lot of advantages to the cannabis industry.
For how powerful and successful he’s been, he relies on a lot of good people around him. That’s part of why he’s going to win and Trump lose. Trump is all about himself — that’s why he turns over so many people and fires people.
Bloomberg has now spent more on advertising than any other presidential candidate in history. Does it make you queasy to see him spending this much money? He’s effectively bought his way into the upper tier of the polls, and onto the debate stage.
We absolutely need campaign finance reform. This is a unique challenge where it’s going to take a massive investment of resources of time, of really top-notch people, and they have to be super-organized to be successful. That’s why I think Bloomberg’s in the best position to make Trump lose. That’s why Trump is scared.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime circumstance. The biggest, most critical problem that cuts across all the issues we care about is one single problem, and that’s Donald Trump.
Whatever issue progressives are concerned about, the real question is [do they want] four more years of Donald Trump on that issue? That’s the question each of us has to ask ourselves. On every issue I can go through, what’s clear to me is that Bloomberg would be better than Trump. That’s the question of once he gets into office. The question right now is: Who has the best shot at beating Trump?