Bloomberg talks guns, student loan debt and who he sees as the Bloomberg voter

“The real extremists want revolutionary change rather than evolutionary change, and the vast bulk of the public does not want that," the Democratic presidential candidate said.
Image: Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg speaking in Detroit last month.Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Ali Vitali and Molly Roecker

SAN MARCOS, Texas — Michael Bloomberg wants the voters in the middle — and thinks he’s the only Democrat who can win them over.

“The real extremists want revolutionary change rather than evolutionary change, and the vast bulk of the public does not want that,” he told NBC News in an interview Saturday, both on aboard his campaign bus and at a local barbecue restaurant here. “I think that I can reach out to those across the aisle. And that's why I can beat Donald Trump.

"And I don't think any of the other Democratic candidates can do that. They're not going to be acceptable to the middle of the road and the other side, and you have to have that to get a majority.”

While Bloomberg traversed Texas on Saturday — with Judge Judy Sheindlin in tow — the rest of the Democratic field was busy making their own pitch across the first four early states.

The former New York City mayor was a late entrant into the 2020 race, but he hasn't wasted time: staffing up big (he’s got 800 people between his headquarters and 30 states) and spending bigger on ads that make him a ubiquitous presence on screens across the U.S.

He’s also played catch up on the issues, dropping a steady stream of policy outlines. In his wide-ranging interview with NBC, he filled in some of the questions that other Democrats had answered months ago on the campaign trail.

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On the issue of reparations for the descendants of slaves, Bloomberg said he’s “agreed to support a study of it, but I think what I would do is focus any monies on improving education because I think the only ways to work ourselves out of poverty, and work ourselves out of places where people aren't getting a good education is to improve the education system throughout the country and I'd spend my money there.”

Asked about another hot-button topic in the primary, student loan debt, Bloomberg acknowledged the rising cost of an education but said “you can't forgive it all…I think we have to step back and say, ‘Wait a second, where does all this debt come from?’” Another option, he said, would be for the federal government to lower interest rates, easing the burden on students.

Bloomberg made large donations to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, that allowed the school to adopt a need-blind admissions policy, in which applicants are judged solely on their merits, irrespective of their ability to pay for tuition.

“Not every school is going to have a generous benefactor like that,” he allowed. “But we have to find other ways.”

Bloomberg, campaigning in the home state of former 2020 Democratic contender Beto O’Rourke, said he would not back the Texan's push for a mandatory assault weapons buyback program.

“Not that I'm happy with it, but we should settle for: don't sell any more automatic weapons to anybody other than the military and the police department…I think to start something where you went into people's houses to get guns is not going to work in that way. We just shouldn't do it.”

On the filibuster — a Senate rule that if abolished would allow simple majority votes to pass some legislation — Bloomberg said it has been “overused.”

“It was a nice process to protect some against some things, but when it's overused and used incorrectly it's too much and yes, I guess I probably would" get rid of it, he said.

Bloomberg, who spent several years as a Republican during his mayoralty, had harsh words for the tribalism in politics today, specifically for the GOP in the age of Trump.

“It has become a cult, and so people in the party are afraid to stand up and challenge Donald Trump because they are going to get primaried and that's where they would lose an election,” he said. “They got to get some backbone and standup.”