The Corner

Watch Bloomberg

Everybody I know is talking about John Heilemann’s New York magazine cover story, where the author lays out an interesting scenario in which Sarah Palin ends up as the 45th president. The speculation about Palin’s presidential ambitions is intriguing, but it wasn’t what I took away from the piece. Heilemann’s reporting on Michael Bloomberg’s presidential ambitions is far more important.

Palin’s political operation is a tightly knit circle that is not known for friendly relations with the mainstream media. So Heilemann had to rely on interviews with Republican strategists in his attempt to divine her plans. No offense to these strategists, but they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Palin has arranged things in such a way that there are only two people in the world who know what she’s really thinking about 2012. Their names are Todd and Sarah Palin.

Mayor Bloomberg is different. He’s a much more conventional political figure — indeed, in many ways, he embodies the current fashionable opinions of America’s trendsetters. His political team is similarly conventional (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). They play by the rules of American politics. They talk to the press.

What you learn from Heilemann’s sources is that Bloomberg is seriously considering a presidential run; that his close aide Kevin Sheekey is “eagerly monitoring” Americans Elect, a group that plans to hold a “web-based convention” to nominate a “balanced presidential ticket” and place it on the 2012 ballot in all 50 states; and that, if he runs, Bloomberg is prepared to spend between $1 to $3 billion on his campaign.

Yes, $1 to $3 billion. For some perspective, Barack Obama and John McCain spent $1.3 billion combined in 2008. George Will estimates that total spending by all parties and outside groups in the 2010 cycle may reach a record $4.2 billion. In other words, Michael Bloomberg may be prepared to spend in 2012 almost as much as the entire country spent on politics in 2010. There is simply no way to estimate the impact Bloomberg’s billions would have on the 2012 election. It’s never been done before.

Recently, Peter Beinart noted that every one-term president since WWII has faced a significant primary challenge when they ran for reelection. For a variety of reasons, Obama is unlikely to face a significant internal challenge to his authority. But wouldn’t a Mike Bloomberg run be, in some sense, the equivalent of a Democratic primary challenge? The guy is a conventional liberal, after all. He’s closely linked to the Clintonites. If he ran, it would mean that Obama has lost the support of the so-called pragmatic center.

Michael Bloomberg probably won’t be president. He probably won’t make Sarah Palin president. But he does have enough money and ambition to split the Democratic party, take a significant chunk of independents, and deny Barack Obama a second term. Watch him.

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