Elections

Why Not Bloomberg?

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Bloomberg Global Business forum in New York, September 26, 2018. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
A mad Democratic party may be in Republicans’ interest, but a reasonable one is in the nation’s interest.

As all veterans of an eighth-grade typing class know: Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party. Now that Michael Bloomberg has settled on one, he should get to it.

The former mayor of New York City has reached the stage in his public career when many potential voters will have forgotten that he pretended to be a Republican for a little while, and he is giving serious thought to seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. The Democrats could do worse.

And they almost certainly will.

But there is a pretty good case for the Democrats’ getting behind Bloomberg — one that might even cheer conservatives a little, too.

To begin with, Bloomberg would provide the Democrats with a hilarious counterpoint to Donald Trump: Who better to run against an arrogant New York City billionaire than an even more arrogant New York City billionaire who could buy and sell him a dozen times over? There is a story, possibly true, about Bloomberg and Trump being together at an event several years ago, and Trump asking Bloomberg about some club he belonged to. “Forget it, Donald,” Bloomberg allegedly replied, “you can’t afford it.” I do not know that the story is true to the facts, but it is true to character. The Democrats think of Trump as a bully, and he is. Bloomberg is a bigger, meaner bully.

If the Democrats could get over his being old (four years older than Trump), white, male, a billionaire (net worth just shy of $50 billion), a quondam Republican, politically moderate (in the party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and in possession of a Jewish surname (in the party of Rashida Tlaib) — which is unlikely as hell — then Bloomberg has a lot to offer, including the two things the Democrats really want in 2020: victory and vengeance. The proverb insists that revenge is a dish best served cold, and there are few men in American public life as cold as Michael Bloomberg.

The usual case for governors applies to Bloomberg, who as mayor had more constituents than the majority of Democratic governors. He has an impressive executive résumé and has run large, complex, intractable organizations. He is in fact one of the few business titans to have successfully transplanted his private-sector skill set to the public sector. Bloomberg is a businessman, but he is intelligent enough to understand that the slogan “run government like a business” is an invitation to catastrophe.

Bloomberg is something close to what so many voters so often say they want: fiscally responsible, socially liberal. Conservatives and right-leaning independents might balk at his energetically wrongheaded opinions on abortion and the Second Amendment, but it is unlikely that he’d prove worse on those issues than, say, Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren. And unlike the increasingly loopy circle of likely contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, Bloomberg can make some plausible claim to being reasonably free from narrow ideological commitments and at liberty to pursue a sensibly pragmatic bipartisanship. In the event that President Trump should get the opportunity to make another appointment — or two — to the Supreme Court, the amount of damage a President Bloomberg might do on those sensitive issues might be effectively contained, especially with a Republican majority in one or both houses of Congress. You never can throw the same party twice (just as you can never have the same traffic jam twice), but the political model of the 1990s — a politically impotent Bill Clinton giving speeches and indulging his private obsessions while Chancellor Gingrich ran the country — does not look too bad in retrospect.

(That’s the nice thing about being a conservative: A great many difficult situations start to look reasonably good, given enough time.)

The nearest thing to Bloomberg likely to get into the 2020 race is Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. About that: The Democrats are an urban party running against a largely exurban and rural Republican party, and, as it happens, both the former mayor of New York and the current mayor of Los Angeles are ready to go — and each of them can boast of a pretty good record in office, too. The 2020 race is already going to be New York City and Los Angeles against the rest of the country, basically — may as well make it official. Surely there are cabinet seats for London Breed and Muriel Bowser. Big, progressive cities don’t really need a lot of mayors right now, anyway: Jeff Bezos already is effectively mayor of three of them.

It is difficult not to think of Bloomberg as the responsible adult in the likely 2020 field. Sure, he’s a neurotic nanny who obsesses about salt and soda; Kamala Harris is a two-bit totalitarian who abused her legal powers as attorney general of California in a naked bid to intimidate her political enemies — until the Supreme Court made her knock it off. Elizabeth Warren is a scheming opportunist who spent years doing a pretty good Lou Dobbs impersonation until she scented an opening in the Occupy Wall Street lane. Bernie Sanders has gone from bonkers and fresh to bonkers and stale. Julián Castro didn’t even have the guts to challenge Ted Cruz, who almost lost his Senate race to Tracy Flick in drag. Tulsi Gabbard is going to spend the entire race trying to explain away the fact that she used to be to the right of Dick Cheney on gay rights, and Kirsten Gillibrand will spend it explaining away the fact that she used to be to the right of Marco Rubio on immigration and a few other issues. Richard Ojeda, a.k.a. “Who?”, is running for vice president at most. Cory Booker is a fundamentally unserious man.

Like I said: The Democrats could do worse, and probably will.

It might please Republicans to see the Democratic party slather on the clown makeup and go full Ocasio-Cortez. George McGovern’s campaign helped to usher in a generation of Republican dominance. But that isn’t a theory to bet the country on.

A mad Democratic party may be in Republicans’ interest, but a reasonable one is in the nation’s interest.

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