The first few months of 2016 were a little busy. In fact, they were more than busy — I was pretty much overwhelmed putting together Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign, in the event he chose to run.

We didn’t just have to do all the blocking and tackling required of any campaign — getting on the ballot, making ads, polling, holding events, building a team, and so on. Being an Independent and working outside of the traditional political system meant we also had to run the whole thing differently than anyone had run a presidential campaign before. We knew that running a conventional campaign would have resulted in a conventional outcome: Defeat. No Independent has ever won the presidency. And we knew that Mike’s credibility as one of the country’s great innovators and entrepreneurs was one of our surest ways to differentiate him from everyone else.

Democrats can count on support — and bodies — from unions. Republicans can typically count on support — and bodies — from evangelicals. We weren’t going to have either. And we didn’t have an existing network of state and local party chapters to draw from. So we needed a supply of already-vetted independent contractors who could knock on doors, make calls, hand out lit, and do all of the other work that comes with every campaign. Where can you find that? The sharing economy.

So that February, I took a trip to San Francisco. I had the usual array of meetings with VCs and startups and tech reporters on my schedule, but there was one group of meetings at the top of my list. The first was with Travis Kalanick, then the CEO of Uber.

“If I’m willing to pay for a ride for every American to and from the polls on Election Day, would you put a Bloomberg button on the app?”

He thought about it for a moment. Adding a Bloomberg option next to the UberX or Uber Black options on the menu could mean hundreds of millions in revenue on one day, and if any political candidate could actually afford it, it was Mike. It also could mean helping elect someone whom Travis — and most of Silicon Valley — venerated as a godfather of tech.

“Would that mean they have to vote for your guy?”

“This is America. They can vote for whoever they want. But if they’re an Uber customer and they select the Bloomberg button, there’s a pretty good chance they’re with us. I already confirmed you can do this with Trevor Potter, our election counsel. He used to run the Federal Election Commission.”

“So he knows.”

“He knows.”

“I’m in.”

“What if I want to offer campaign work to your drivers?”

“They’re independent contractors. They can do whatever they want.”

“But if I wanted a list of, say, drivers with a rating of 4.8 or higher in a dozen specific states, you could either give that to me or forward them an email?”

“Yep.”

There was our grassroots team.

Any successful campaign requires pioneering new ideas. Obama became the king of online fundraising. Trump turned Twitter into the most effective form of communicating with voters.

I then met with Ron Conway, a prolific and heavily connected venture capitalist in San Francisco. Ron was an early investor in Airbnb and a host of other sharing-economy companies. He didn’t see why Airbnb hosts couldn’t choose to install Bloomberg yard signs or why DoorDash delivery people couldn’t slip campaign literature under people’s doors in between food runs, should they choose to opt in.


While Mike didn’t run, and we didn’t get the chance to execute these ideas, I’m convinced that something like them could materially increase turnout and activity for pro-technology, pro-innovation candidates. I’m equally convinced that any serious candidate in 2020 is going to have to demonstrate the same level of creative thinking about technology, both to execute their campaign and to offer actual solutions to our country’s many, many problems.

Of course, any successful campaign requires pioneering new ideas. Obama became the king of online fundraising. Trump, for better and for worse, turned Twitter into the most effective form of communicating with voters. And with dozens of potential candidates in the 2020 presidential election mix, anyone who wants to break through the morass is going to have to find innovative ways to use technology, too.

That new idea could be a variation on our approach to leveraging the sharing economy. It could be finding new ways to poll voters that eliminate the bias and errors we see in much of today’s quantitative research, discovering new ways to reach non-traditional voters and turn them out in the primaries (in a heavily populated, multi-candidate race, even a few extra voters could make a difference) or inventing new ways to use social media platforms to avoid spending all your money on expensive and inefficient TV ads.

But 2020 is not only going to require candidates to use technology differently — it’s going to require them to present a genuine vision for technology, too. We’re way too far down the road for everyone to just chuckle at slogans like “Don’t Be Evil” and go about their day. Many of our biggest and most powerful companies are in the tech world: Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook. Each of them present tremendous opportunities and conveniences to voters. They also represent multiple public policy choices, questions and headaches for anyone running for President.

On a day-to-day basis — in debates, press conferences, on Twitter, and at campaign events — the candidates are going to have to explain their views on issues like whether any of these tech giants should face antitrust scrutiny, whether they should be required to offer the same level of privacy protections as those required in Europe, and how to curb interference by hate groups and foreign powers across social media platforms.

Those are all important issues, but they’re not what the voters will really need to hear. Managing the downsides of tech platforms is one thing. Having a true vision for how technology solves the biggest problems confronting our country is another. The candidate who genuinely understands the role tech can play — and believes in more than that day’s talking points — is the one who will ultimately pull through.

There are so many issues threatening our future: climate change, gun violence, unaffordable health care, bad schools, the automation of work, opioids, a polarized and dysfunctional democracy. Most politicians figure out what the relevant special interests care about on each issue and then parrot those talking points back at them. Rinse and repeat, ask for more money, and there’s your campaign. Some politicians, like Trump, offer a vision for going back in time, using the comfort of distant (often false) memories to make voters feel like he’s their guy.

Unless Mueller really has the goods on him, Trump’s going to be the Republican nominee in 2020. We already know his narrative: return to a better past.

The Democrat who successfully challenges Trump has to be more than someone who just games out each constituency in a vacuum. It needs to be a candidate who can spell out a persuasive, compelling vision for how we use new technology, new platforms, new ideas, and new approaches to solve seemingly intractable problems like guns or immigration or climate change.

The value of tech, especially of startups, isn’t any one breakthrough in engineering or any one line of code. It’s the willingness and ability to say, “Our education system is clearly failing; here’s an entirely different way to approach it,” and then stick with the plan, even after everyone who benefits from the status quo attacks you. It’s the ability to say, “We can’t put the genie back in the bottle and pretend that automation isn’t coming, but here are 20 industries that can come out of artificial intelligence and here’s how we become the global leader in each one of them.” It’s the ability to say, “Our democracy is polarized and dysfunctional; here’s how we use technology to exponentially increase voter participation.”

Embracing tech means embracing doing things differently. Some of that can come directly through new campaign tactics. But mobilizing voters through the sharing economy or Twitter is just a means to the end. The end itself is recognizing the spiral we’re in and being willing to offer solutions you know are right, even if every major donor feels otherwise. Embracing tech and embracing innovation means embracing independence. It means having the courage to say no when people want to hear yes and yes when people want to hear no.

We’re not likely to see many 2020 presidential candidates come out of Silicon Valley (if any). But tech’s ethos — its willingness to not only say that the Emperor is naked, but to then offer an array of new clothing options all available online with free drone delivery — is more valuable and more necessary than ever.


From THE FIXER by Bradley Tusk, published by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Bradley Tusk.