Michael Bloomberg for president? Every four years New York’s billionaire former Mayor threatens to throw his hat in the ring — and then bails at the last minute.
When it comes to political cock-teases few can match Bloomberg’s penchant for showing a little leg — and but then retreating from the stage when his audience demands that he “take it off.”
His favorite audience seems to be the mainstream media, which seems to relish his seductions. Like Trump, he’s had an out-sized presence in New York’s media markets. And his ownership of a major media empire somehow makes him seem – to reporters, at least — like part of the “club.”
Bloomberg’s actually far wealthier than Trump but disdains the reality TV star’s bombast and jingoism. When he last flirted with a run, in 2016, polls showed him to be highly competitive — on paper at least. Back then he was contemplating a third-party bid. It’s not clear if he would do the same in 2020.
In our rigid two-party system, most such efforts are doomed to failure. H. Ross Perot made a serious go of it in 1992 and shocked everyone by running competitively for so long, ending up with 19% of the national popular vote, but failing to capture a single state.
Like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Bloomberg represents the electorate’s hope for a sane centrist. He’s urbane, witty, no-nonsense, and largely devoid of cant. At a time when the two parties have shifted ever more radically toward their respective extremes, he comes down squarely in the center and prides himself on his pragmatism.
But that’s precisely the problem. With the two parties dominated by extremists, he’d have a tough time operating within either one. He is far too fiscally responsible for most Democrats — but his staunch support for abortion, gay rights, and immigration is complete anathema to most conservatives. He’d be counting on the idea that there’s a silent majority of moderate voters that want an alternative — but it’s not clear they do, in fact.
Independent voters would back him — but there are few genuinely independent voters left.
About 40% of the electorate tells pollsters they’re independent, but their voting patterns belly that stance. In fact, they tend to lean heavily one way or another. Less than 10% of the electorate is genuinely independent, which can throw some races — and in a general election, tilt some swing important states.
If he ran as an independent, who would his bid favor? In 2016, a Quinnipiac poll compared Bernie Sanders running against Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — with and without Bloomberg in the race. Without Bloomberg running, Sanders beat Cruz by 4 and Trump by 10. But with Bloomberg in the race, Sanders and his Republican opponents were dead even, with Bloomberg polling roughly 15 percent.
If the same pattern holds true, an independent Bloomberg bid would seem to give the GOP the edge.
But this is 2020, not 2016. Bloomberg has held off on a bid thus far because he was backing Joe Biden and saw no need to undermine his candidacy. With Biden fading in so many polls, he’s obviously reconsidering. Chances are, should he run, he would do so as a Democrat and try to build new bridges. But the political space is smaller than he thinks. He’s another old — very old White male — in a political cycle in which one White male outsider after another has failed to gain traction.
Moreover, Biden has an enormous reservoir of support, especially in the Black community, and Sanders still captives youth. Bloomberg doesn’t really captivate anyone. While support for all Democratic primary candidates — including the surging Elizabeth Warren — is soft, it’s far from clear they are open to a fresh alternative. In fact, despite their recent fades, Biden and Sander retain strong support, just not as much as they did three months ago.
Ultimately the problem with Bloomberg is Bloomberg. His flat nasally delivery is uninspiring at a time when voters across the spectrum want to be dazzled or energized.
Bloomberg has great ideas and deserves to be in the mix — somewhere. He’s focused more than most of today’s politicians on the problem of workforce training and development and the need to carve out new labor markets for a rapidly evolving economy. But he’s more out of touch than ever with parties consumed with issues like climate change on the left, or border enforcement on the right.
In the end, after another trademark burlesque performance, expect Bloomberg to do what he always does — flirt and flee.