SAN ANTONIO — Judge Judith Sheindlin does not tolerate breaches of civility. Certainly not in her televised courtroom, where she has presided as the sharp-tongued star of “Judge Judy” for near a quarter century. And not in American politics, either.
But being stuck on the bench, even on a simulated courtroom set watched by nearly 10 million viewers daily, has its limitations. So, last September Ms. Sheindlin cold-called someone she believed could do more to stop what she saw as a plague of disrespectful political discourse: Michael R. Bloomberg.
Four months later, Ms. Sheindlin found herself presiding over a very different kind of jury — a group of Texas voters gathered at a Mexican restaurant for breakfast burritos and Saturday morning stump speeches.
“America probably still needs a little tweaking,” she said, before introducing Mr. Bloomberg at a campaign rally in this traditionally red state. “It doesn’t need a revolution.”
Barack Obama grooved with Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Hillary Clinton roared with Katy Perry. Mr. Bloomberg issues opinions with Judge Judy.
In a contest dominated by septuagenarians vying to challenge a 73-year-old president, perhaps it is only fitting that one of the most unusual celebrity endorsements of the primary race comes from a Floridian known for her no-nonsense style.
In choosing to endorse Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Sheindlin is breaking five decades of political silence to publicly back a politician that she sees as the only one who can help America “heal.”
The pairing of Mr. Bloomberg, the 77-year-old former New York City mayor, with the 77-year-old Ms. Sheindlin, a former Manhattan family court supervising judge, is not all that unlikely a match. Mr. Bloomberg is known for occasionally indulging in fits of peevishness, once firing a city employee after spotting a game of solitaire open on his work computer. Ms. Sheindlin is revered for her gruff courtroom aphorisms — known as Judyisms to her fans — barking out sayings like “I’m the boss, applesauce” and “dumb ideas come from people who have dumb brains.”
Both are savvy businesspeople with extensive financial resources. Ms. Sheindlin is the highest-paid television host in the country, with a reported net worth of $400 million. She tapes only 52 days a year, for which CBS pays her an estimated $47 million, and has negotiated producing rights. Mr. Bloomberg, who has already poured more than $200 million into his presidential campaign in less than two months, is estimated to have a net worth more than $50 billion — though his wealth has been cited by populist rivals as an advantage that distorts the primary process.
Both also pride themselves on their independent streak when it comes to politics. Mr. Bloomberg ran for mayor as a Republican and an independent before returning to the Democratic Party. Ms. Sheindlin, a registered independent, does not consider herself a Democrat and is unsure whether she will be able to cast a ballot for Mr. Bloomberg in her state’s primary.
“The primary is complicated,” she said in an interview. “But I will vote for him because he will be the nominee.”
Regardless of her political affiliation, Ms. Sheindlin is more than admissible as a celebrity political endorser. She is the star of the highest-rated show in syndication every season for the past decade, and is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “longest running TV judge.” When she swapped her signature short shag for a low-slung pony tail, it reverberated across the internet. A single shrug from the bench often prompts a wave of fresh online memes.
Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic strategist who managed celebrity surrogates on Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, said that when Mrs. Clinton’s team tested the reach of their endorsers before the general election, the people who were the most valuable with undecided voters were stars, like Ms. Sheindlin, who reached broad audiences on network television.
“A lot of these celebrities like Judge Judy appeal to Middle America, people watching network television and not cable news all day,” Ms. Elrod said. “Anybody who has a mainstream following on network television is someone you want because it means they have mainstream appeal.”
For Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Sheindlin helps accentuate some of the managerial qualities he is pitching to voters as he travels the country in advance of the Super Tuesday contests on March 3, the first states he will contest. At a time of intense partisan gridlock, they are trying to project an all-business approach that Mr. Bloomberg hopes can cut through political divisions.
Asked about the criticism of Mr. Bloomberg’s vast wealth — and his decision to self-fund his campaign — Ms. Sheindlin cast it as a political strength, saying he “holds no constituency other than the people who elected him.”
Her first journey through the rigors of a day on the presidential campaign came on Saturday, when she joined Mr. Bloomberg on a bus tour across Texas. It was Ms. Sheindlin’s first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Bloomberg, whom she had previously only spoken with over the phone.
“I know Mike through his work,” she said. “Today is really the first touching of the flesh for us.”
Swapping her signature lace collar for a stylish scarf, she walked through a line of selfie-snapping voters to board Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign bus, emblazoned with the slogan “Get It Done Express.” She ordered brisket at a barbecue joint. (“No bread,” she sternly instructed.) And she smiled through Mr. Bloomberg’s awkward campaign trail prattle.
“I’m never sure whether it’s appropriate to kiss the judge,” said Mr. Bloomberg, taking the stage in San Antonio after Ms. Sheindlin’s introduction. “There’s nobody this country respects any more than you — there are other people as well — but you really are a great American and you should be very proud of what you do.”
While Ms. Sheindlin did not mention any of the candidates by name, her judgments on the Democratic primary field were rendered quite clearly for voters. She implied that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was a “nice guy” but described him as “number two,” when the country “deserves a number one.” Her comments denouncing calls for “revolution” were a shot at Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Aides to the former mayor said that Ms. Sheindlen’s support arrived through a totally organic process. “Judge Judy Sheindlin is known for her good judgment,” said Galia Slayen, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bloomberg.
A native New Yorker, Ms. Sheindlin said she had briefly met Mr. Bloomberg two decades ago, though she doubted that he remembered the encounter. After she called Mr. Bloomberg in early September, she wrote an op-ed in USA Today praising his pragmatism and urging him to jump into the race.
When Mr. Bloomberg announced his bid in November, Ms. Sheindlin was quickly deployed, sent out on cable news interviews, to make the case for Mr. Bloomberg on “The View,” and featured in a gauzy campaign ad.
In Texas on Saturday, Ms. Sheindlin praised Mr. Bloomberg’s work on issues like gun control and climate change and his leadership of New York City, at a time when she lived there with her children.
Far warmer in person than her television persona, Ms. Sheindlin said she had grown horrified by the angry, bitter tone of the country’s political rhetoric.
“Nobody gets angry in my courtroom but I see it in the social discourse — my family, friends,” she said. “Enough damage has been done. My mission is to see that Mike Bloomberg is in the White House for the next four years.”