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Michael Bloomberg, seen here on Feb. 13, 2020, is the world’s ninth-richest person, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at US$62-billion.JONATHAN DRAKE/Reuters

After emerging dazed from the Iowa caucuses and confused after the New Hampshire primary, discouraged Democrats are suddenly praying that a billionaire New Yorker with a history of autocratic and sexist behaviour can buy his way to victory on Super Tuesday.

Such is the surreal state of the Democratic presidential race as the party establishment increasingly looks to the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, to prevent a socialist Bernie Sanders or an inexperienced Pete Buttigieg from reaching the top of the ticket.

The establishment’s initial choice, former vice-president Joe Biden, now gives rambling, Willy Loman-like monologues that only reinforce the impression that time has passed him by. Like the sad protagonist of Death of a Salesman, nobody’s buying what Mr. Biden has to sell any more. Many of his early backers have finally come to recognize that.

Enter Mr. Bloomberg.

The world’s ninth-richest person, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at US$62-billion, has already spent upward of $US300-million of his own money to overwhelm the airwaves with advertising and out-organize his rivals in the 14 states that hold primaries on March 3. More than a third of all delegates to the July Democratic convention are up for grabs on Super Tuesday and a strong performance by Mr. Bloomberg would make the results in the first four primary states – Nevada and South Carolina will vote later this month – largely irrelevant.

That so many conscientious people are willing to look past the grotesque way in which Mr. Bloomberg has bulldozed his way into the Democratic race says a lot about how far they are willing to go to defeat Donald Trump. Mr. Bloomberg not only flouts the spirit of campaign finance laws, he has entirely erased the lines between his political and corporate interests.

Mr. Bloomberg “has deployed his corporation in service of his campaign, reassigning employees from the various arms of his empire and recruiting new ones with powerful financial incentives, including full benefits and salaries well above national campaign norms,” an article in The New York Times noted this week. “Mr. Bloomberg’s operation has grown to a staff of thousands, with more than 125 offices around the country and a roster of slick events featuring swag, drinks and canapés.”

The apparent appeal of Mr. Bloomberg’s candidacy lies in his record as a three-term mayor of the country’s largest city, his tireless advocacy for tougher gun laws and his commitment to tackling climate change. He is seen as a moderate – a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat-again – who can get things done and work across the aisle.

He is also fearless. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman this week referred to Mr. Bloomberg as a “rattlesnake.” Which is exactly what Democrats need, because they have a “big, brutal task” ahead them if they are to successfully oust Mr. Trump.

Clearly, Mr. Trump senses the threat, tweeting on Thursday: “Mini Mike is a 5’4” mass of dead energy.” The contrast repeatedly drawn between Mr. Trump’s inherited and modest fortune and Mr. Bloomberg’s humongous and self-made one does seem to get under his skin.

It’s an open debate whether Mr. Bloomberg would be able to drive the levels of turnout among black and Latino voters that will likely be needed to defeat Mr. Trump in November. His rivals for the nomination are not about to let Mr. Bloomberg get away with his previous defence of the stop-and-frisk policy he championed in New York.

In a taste of things to come, a 2015 recording of Mr. Bloomberg – in which he is heard attributing the bulk of crimes committed in New York to “male, minorities, 16 to 25” and saying “you can just take the description, Xerox it and pass out to all the cops" – went viral this week. A string of past sexist remarks made by Mr. Bloomberg have resurfaced, too.

Mr. Bloomberg has apologized for being insensitive to women and minorities in the past. The question is whether a 78-year-old man with an ego as big as his can really change.

Mr. Bloomberg may represent better policies than Mr. Trump. But he has a history of acting in an undemocratic manner in order to get his way. Like Mr. Trump, he has often behaved as though the rules don’t apply to him. At least when Mr. Trump brags you get a sense that even he knows he’s exaggerating (if not lying). Not so with Mr. Bloomberg.

Americans already have an arrogant, autocratic and vindictive narcissist in the White House. Do they really want to risk electing another one?