Photo via Flickr user COP PARIS
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor who has moonlighted as a will-he-or-won't-he potential independent presidential candidate for a decade, has decided not to run for president, he announced through his eponymous news website on Monday.
Bloomberg has always been cast by himself and his most ardent supporters as a serious, technocratic centrist. So it makes sense that in his announcement that he was not doing anything, he made sure to emphasize all his serious centrist credentials. He didn't simply say, "I'm not running," but penned a long, bloviating op-ed column about how America is so broken, how he could fix it, why "many Americans" have told him that it is his "patriotic duty" to run for president, and why he must regretfully let all those Americans down very badly.
"When I look at the data, it's clear to me that if I entered the race, I could not win," Bloomberg writes. By his reckoning, "in a three-way race, it's unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress." The House and Senate are of course run by Republicans, and would almost certainly pick the GOP nominee, whether that was Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
"That is not a risk I can take in good conscience," Bloomberg explains.
Polls that included Bloomberg in three-way match-ups of possible candidates varied widely, with one showing him garnering 29 percent of the vote nationally and another only giving him only 9 percent. But the idea that his campaign would cause a deadlock that could only be resolved by an unprecedented-in-modern-times congressional vote is a strange one, to put it mildly.
For one thing, the last time a third-party candidate earned electoral college votes was in 1968, when segregationist George Wallace won several Southern states. Since then, every much-hyped interloper, from Independent Ross Perot to Green Ralph Nader, has come up empty. (Perot won nearly 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, but didn't win a single state.)
Bloomberg's other problem, of course, is that his idiosyncratic platform seemed designed to make him unelectable.
He's pro-choice and anti-gun, meaning that a huge swath of right-leaning voters would hate him. He's also not only a billionaire but a longtime friend of Wall Street types who helped Goldman Sachs get $1.65 billion in exchange for putting its headquarters near Ground Zero—which would make him the enemy of every Bernie Sanders fan as well as all those Trump supporters who think hedge fund elites are screwing over the little guy.
Then there was his court-defeated ban on large sodas in NYC, which was intended to reduce obesity but would likely (and sort of already did) play nationally as the bizarre brainchild of an out-of-touch plutocrat. "Have you seen the size of the sodas they drink in the middle of the country?" one Cruz supporter told New York magazine recently when asked about Bloomberg's potential run.
The great dream of centrists like Bloomberg and the failed third party Americans Elect is that there are a huge number of voters dissatisfied with the two-party system and ready for a candidate determined to end partisan gridlock. But the 2016 campaign is showing that even though voters hate the two-party system, they would rather try to blow it up by way of Trump or Sanders than settle for a dude who is sort of like a Democrat, only richer.