After a solid 100-year effort, the New Hampshire primaries have finally jumped the shark. Members of that wise, often taciturn tribe of New England Yankees were long renowned for their uncanny ability to sort the presidential wheat from the chaff, to pick the pretenders from the contenders. Credit where it’s due, it was an extraordinary run.
But when the ideologically rudderless Donald Trump and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders run away with the top prizes, and lifelong centrist pols get sent home with trophies for participation, the contest has finally lost whatever political gravitas it may once have had.
Indeed, the biggest winner from the first-in-the-nation fracas this year wasn’t even on the ballot: Michael Bloomberg.
Will Americans from Mississippi to Maine join hands to applaud a candidate who wants to ban Big Gulps, lauds “stop and frisk,” and built both his name and his fortune on Wall Street? Only if the other options on the ballot are as noxious as they are unqualified to assume the most powerful and consequential job on the planet.
Bloomberg told the Financial Times recently that he found the 2016 campaign’s “level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters.” Talk about a sentiment shared by those who bleed red or blue.
If you aren’t frightened by the apocalyptic tone of some campaigns, you’re likely repulsed by the vulgarity of others. At a recent Trump rally organizers had to remind the audience not to beat up protesters who made a commotion during his speech. In America. In 2016.
While Bloomberg’s media empire made him a household name, his adept management of the country’s most powerful metropolis could make him a White House contender. In a campaign dominated by Trump and Bernie, Hillary and Jeb!, Bloomberg could position himself as a national mechanic – perhaps the campaign that Tom Menino might have run, had he aspired to national office. It would be a supremely patriotic gesture.
In a year when conventions have shattered and rulebooks tossed out the window of Trump’s 757, why not a candidate who has marched to a different drum his entire career? Bloomberg has run as a Republican, a Democrat, and an independent over the years. This time, perhaps it is safer to run as a “none.”
If Mayor Mike can pick up supporters from the middling moderates Jeb Bush and John Kasich, along with some lukewarm Clinton supporters, he could make a serious centrist run and leave Trump and Sanders with only their furious fringes.
Ideologically, Bloomberg can pluck a la carte. His opposition to early withdrawal from Iraq will appeal to hawks, while his work (with Tom Menino) on gun control will endear him to, well, people who don’t believe in a constitutional right to own aresenals.
Supporting stop-and-frisk policing wins him law and order voters, while his staunchly pro-abortion-rights views win him a key part of the Democratic constituency. He’s tussled with teachers in New York and in favor of drug reform. Ever smoke pot? “You bet I did,” he famously said, “And I enjoyed it.”
While his three terms in New York weren’t without the rough and tumble that comes with running the country’s biggest city, it was remarkably free from scandal. That’s something even conservatives would like to see linger from the Obama years. Even Ralph Nader has some nice things to say about one of the country’s megabillionaires.
Bloomberg has hinted that he might be interested in a White House run. That’s an easy call for any reasonable man if Trump wins the GOP nomination, or Clinton gets in disqualifying legal trouble. Fate favors the well-prepared, as they say. But it also favors the bold. There’s little time for dithering in a run for the presidency, unless you want to get stuck with just a trophy for participation.Alex Kingsbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexKingsbury.