Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Over the weekend, reports surfaced that political insiders were starting to treat the presidential campaign of a certain New York billionaire with increased seriousness. While his prospects of competing in the general election had once seemed slim, that no longer seems to be the case. His candidacy has been called narcissistic, reckless, and a danger to the political stability of this country. Still, reports state that he is willing to spend upwards of a billion dollars of his own money to fund his campaign.
I am talking, of course, of former New York City Mayor and multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
For those who don’t know, Michael Bloomberg is a Democrat turned Republican turned Independent who was the Mayor of New York City from 2002 until 2014. While Bloomberg has endorsed candidates from both parties, his policies lean to the left. It was reported this weekend that he is exploring the idea of running as an independent in 2016 out of disdain for the rise of what he perceives to be extremists in both parties, particularly Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders.
Bloomberg claims to be a centrist with crossover appeal to Democrats and Republicans, and to some degree he’s right. However, he’s more center-left than truly centrist. Mayor Bloomberg is pro-choice, supports higher taxes on the wealthy, favors environmental regulation, and is leading a campaign to implement high levels of gun control. When you aggregate his views, you have a liberal mayor with a centrist fiscal policy record and only a handful of conservative views. No candidate with that type of record is going to get a substantial amount of votes from Republicans. On the other hand, a lot of moderate Democrats and independents would probably be willing to vote for him if Sanders is nominated.
Reports indicate that Bloomberg is far more likely to run if Sanders is the nominee out of his distaste for Sanders’ anti-free trade and anti-Wall Street agenda. It’s hard to imagine he’d seriously consider running against the Clinton given their friendly relationship when she represented New York as a senator and her more moderate economic policies. While a Sanders nomination remains unlikely (political forecasting whiz Nate Silver currently puts Bernie’s chances at a little over 5%,) it’s a real possibility. In the case of a Sanders nomination, the Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist is going to need all the help he can get to win a general election. Bloomberg’s liberal bent guarantees that he would only serve to take votes away from a potential Sanders candidacy.
While I have no doubt that Mayor Bloomberg has significant problems with many of Senator Sanders’ stances on government regulation and free trade, he undoubtedly has far more problems with Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Bloomberg endorsed Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012 citing, in part, Governor Romney’s socially conservative stances. It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t prefer Sanders to Trump or Cruz, who make Mitt Romney look like a Peace and Conflict professor. Moreover, a President Sanders would be constrained by a Republican House and could not pass the most radical reforms that Mayor Bloomberg opposes. A President Trump would have the aid of the Republican House, and even if he didn’t, he doesn’t seem like he would show much respect for our government’s system of checks and balances.
The futility of a Bloomberg run should not be understated. In the modern political system, political parties provide support and assistance that an independent candidate cannot hope to match, no matter how well funded. Party databases that include comprehensive information on millions of voters and potential donors are key assets that the RNC and DNC have been building for years. Moderate officials from either party will be unwilling to support a third party candidate out of fear of political reprisal. Perhaps most importantly, many liberals will fear that a vote for Bloomberg is a vote wasted which could increase the chances that Trump is elected.
Bloomberg should take caution from the campaign of the most successful 3rd party candidate of the last fifty years, centrist billionaire Ross Perot, who in 1992 received 19% of the popular vote but no electoral votes. If Bloomberg were to run, he could very well change the result of the election, but not in the way he would want. Even if he only garnered a relatively small amount of votes, his candidacy could be devastating for the candidate to whom he is more ideologically aligned. Democrats are still bitter about Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, whose 100,000 votes in Florida were sufficient to deny the Presidency to Democratic Vice President Al Gore, who lost the state and therefore the election by a mere 537 votes.
In the unlikely event Bloomberg won enough states to prevent any candidate from reaching the requisite 270 electoral votes to claim victory, the race would be decided by the House of Representatives. While some moderates may prefer Bloomberg, the Republican House would almost certainly vote in the Republican nominee, especially given the threat of primary challenges from angry base voters if their representatives betray the party.
No one likes chosing between ‘the lesser of two evils,’ but to avoid making that choice is the easy way out. Elections have real consequences for real people. If Donald Trump is elected to the most powerful office in the world, real people will be kicked out of this country, real people will lose their healthcare, and real people will die due to a reckless and Islamophobic foreign policy that only add fuel to the fire of terrorists. That goes against what this country stands for and what Mayor Bloomberg stands for. In the face of all that, to reject the best chance of defeating Donald Trump because you aren’t fully satisfied with the alternative is the height of privilege. It says that you would rather do what makes you feel good than do what is best for the country.
If Mayor Bloomberg has the desire to spend a billion dollars on a presidential campaign, that is unfortunately his right, but that money should be spent on a campaign with a realistic shot at defeating Donald Trump, not on a delusional and destructive ego-trip.
Image courtesy of newyorker.com