Politics & Policy

Don’t Buy the Hype about a Bloomberg Presidential Run

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

In October last year, The Atlantic magazine detailed the 25 media boomlets over the past decade that have speculated Michael Bloomberg would run for president. Today the New York Times launched yet another one, reporting that the former New York mayor would be willing to spend “at least $1 billion of his fortune” on an independent race, should Bernie Sanders or a “gravely weakened” Hillary Clinton become the Democratic nominee.

While the public is clearly disenchanted with both major parties, the odds of the 73-year-old Bloomberg’s parachuting into the presidential race are laughably low. It’s true that more than 70 percent of voters think the country is on the wrong track, and that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have unfavorable ratings of above 50 percent with the general public. But as Michael Goodwin, a New York Post columnist who has frequent contact with Bloomberg, put it this weekend: “He won’t run if he can’t win, and anybody who sells him a vision of victory is suffering hallucinations or looking for a payday.”

Theoretically, the obstacles to beginning a race this late aren’t terribly daunting. Deadlines for ballot access in most states fall in July or August, so getting his name before voters as an independent would be nothing more than an expensive irritation for someone of Bloomberg’s wealth. Richard Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News, estimates that Bloomberg would have to spend $5 million to $6 million to get ballot lines in all 50 states. The first deadline is in Texas, which requires 80,000 valid signatures on petitions be submitted by May 9 of this year.

But Bloomberg’s challenge wouldn’t be ballot access, it would be the Electoral College. Even if an independent candidate managed to win 35 percent of the popular vote nationwide, it would be hard to carry a majority of the Electoral College. There hasn’t been an election since 1824 in which no presidential candidate has won a majority of the Electoral College. Should that happen in 2016, the next president would be selected by an insiders’ election in the House, with each state’s delegations casting one vote, and a majority needed to prevail. Right now, Republicans control a commanding 34 state delegations, Democrats have a majority in 14, and two are split evenly. Given that every House member is a Democrat or Republican, an independent’s chances of victory are slim.

Ross Perot set a modern standard of success as an alternative candidate in 1992 when he won 19 percent of the popular vote against Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. But he didn’t win a single electoral vote.

#share#There is real doubt that Bloomberg could equal Perot’s showing. In a Morning Consult poll out this month, Bloomberg gets only 13 percent support running against Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a potential three-candidate matchup. Independents, the constituency that Bloomberg would most have to rally, would give him only 18 percent of the vote. (He would take 12 percent of Republicans and 9 percent of Democrats.)

In 2013, Bloomberg conducted an exit interview with New York magazine as he prepared to leave the mayor’s office in New York. The idea of him running for president was “just impossible,” he said. “I am 100 percent convinced that you cannot in this country win an election unless you are the nominee of one of the two major parties. The second thing I am convinced of is that I could not get through the primary process with either party.”

#related#Indeed, Bloomberg, who has been an independent since leaving the Republican party in 2007, chose to not to contest either party’s nomination. No doubt he is sorely tempted to run as an independent given the current chaos in both parties and the rise of Donald Trump, a fellow New York billionaire and a man for whom Bloomberg has contempt. But Bloomberg must know that his eclectic background and diverse positions on issues wouldn’t fare well in a polarized country. Many Democrats would view his extensive Wall Street ties with horror — just look at how Hillary has been harmed by her far more modest ties to the financial community. And Bloomberg’s support for abortion rights, gun control, and nanny-state regulation would hurt him with Republicans. Moreover, despite the knocks pundits have delivered to Ted Cruz over his criticism of “New York values,” Cruz is on to something: the Big Apple just isn’t very popular in the rest of the country, where over 97 percent of the population lives.

Michael Bloomberg was a good mayor of New York, and many people (including me) miss his competence. But Bloomberg would probably join the list of other New York mayors who harbored ambitions beyond the Big Apple — from John Lindsay to Ed Koch to Rudy Giuliani — only to see them crash and burn. Those who govern in New York City usually have to stay put there.

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