If you think Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are shaking up the 2016 presidential campaign, imagine the jolt that could come from a third-party run by megabillionaire, and former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.
As Ross Perot did in 1992, when he ran as an independent, receiving 19 million votes, a Bloomberg candidacy would instantly produce a three-way race. Rich candidates get instant mass-media coverage and polls, creating widespread name recognition in only a matter of days.
The restless, ambitious, supremely self-confident former three-term mayor of the nation’s largest city has been more than just thinking about becoming president for a decade. He’s done the surveys and solicited the advice of historians and political analysts about his chances. He’ll only run if he thinks he can win.
So what does he bring to a campaign? His mayoral reign steeped him in urban issues and needs, which he has long believed are not given even minimal coverage in presidential campaigns. His contacts with the urban political scene in many cities is unmatched. He can forge an immediate network of movers and shakers in the business, philanthropic, and political arenas. As a protector of Wall Street and a law-and-order mayor who backed police and their stop-and-frisk practices, he reassures the nervous plutocracy and oligarchy, who fear loss of their usual control over elections.
He has told associates that he would run if the likely Republican and Democratic nominees are either too extreme (Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders, in his mind) or faltering (Hillary Clinton). The time for decision is rapidly nearing for meeting different state deadlines for ballot access. Even though Bloomberg is reportedly ready to spend a billion dollars on his campaign, and can get the necessary petition signatures in record time, Richard Winger, publisher of Ballot Access News, says he has got to get started early next month.
As I learned when I ran for president, some state officials can use tricky or vague language to trip up candidates who have more than the required signatures. Taking them to court eats up valuable time.
How about the electoral college? Perot didn’t get one electoral vote from this embarrassing vestige of yesterday, which allows candidates who win the popular vote to still lose in the national election. However, with winner-take-all pluralities in a multiparty race, the electoral college could work in Bloomberg’s favor if he could excite the voters.
Therein lies the rub. What excitement could come out of his announcement day? He’ll emphasize his ability to get things done — starting with founding the giant Bloomberg News Company on a shoestring investment 35 years ago. He’ll recount his mayoral achievements and the absence of any personal scandals in the snakepit known as New York City politics. But his Wall Street boosterism may not go down well with many potentially defecting voters.
He’ll reassure independent and partisan voters that he is the heavyweight in the race who can fix broken politics in Washington. After all, he has been a registered Democrat and Republican, and is presently an independent — the ultimate hybrid candidate who knows how to bring people together, as he often did in fractious New York City.
Will it work to meet his bottom line — that he has a chance to win and avoid being stereotyped with that politically-bigoted word “spoiler”? His biggest procedural problem is time. The outcomes of the Republican and Democratic party race may not be known until well beyond March, as many had expected.
In addition, it is difficult to perceive what bundle of goals, what exciting horizons, can emanate from a noncharismatic personality who projects a dutiful managerial image but is not about to start shifting power and freedom from the few to the many.
Were Bloomberg to run, regardless of his prospects of winning, he would help break up the two-party tyranny that believes it owns all the voters in this country. He would convey that a competitive election should mean more choices of candidates and agendas. The rigged presidential debates, especially if he were included as Ross Perot was in 1996, would receive much needed public scrutiny.
But such contributions by themselves won’t move Michael Bloomberg. To run, he has to believe he’s going to prevail. My guess is that his poll-driven answer to this recurring interest in the White House will be once again to stay put as a full-time, bold advocacy philanthropist and official adviser to favored institutions.
Ralph Nader is author of “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State’’ and a four-time presidential candidate.