On January 23, 2016, it was reported that Michael Bloomberg had ordered his subordinates to explore options for a possible third-party entry into the 2016 Presidential race. Speculation is that Bloomberg might finance his candidacy with up to $1 billion of his personal fortune, currently estimated to be worth approximately $37 billion, making him the world’s 13th wealthiest person, according to Forbes magazine.
Bloomberg is no stranger to politics, being elected mayor three times of New York City after a successful career running the private news financial news company that bears his name. Bloomberg has also unofficially explored running for president previously, at least in the 2008 and possibly in the 2012 elections, but ultimately decided not to enter either contest. Whether he will indeed throw his hat into the ring in 2016 is unknown at this time, but what is known is that almost surely he would have no chance of winning. However, he could act as a “spoiler” candidate against whoever the frontrunner might be, possibly affecting the outcome of the race.
Outside of New York, Bloomberg enjoys some name recognition, but in many cases at a deep cost; he is identified by large numbers of people on the basis of a sole issue: gun control. This issue is a cause to which he has donated heavily and campaigned tirelessly as a co-founder of the national gun control organizations, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety. In this latter role, he has identified himself as a vehement anti-gun advocate.
As mayor of New York, he presided over a city that features some of the strictest gun restriction laws (which he strengthened) in the country, and he has made no secret of his desire to ban guns in many other places as well. His contention that guns used in New York City crimes could be legally purchased in states outside of New York (in the South, for example) and transported to his home state played well to New Yorkers, but less so to people in other parts of the U.S. Many non-New Yorkers felt he was infringing on their rights by funding legislation efforts and political candidates in their states against Second Amendment liberties.
During his tenure as mayor of New York City, it’s true that violent crime decreased, and the number of murders in the city fell from 587 in 2002 when Bloomberg entered office to 333 in the year he left, far below the historic high recorded in 1990 of 2,245. But many people would argue it was the zero-tolerance and criminal justice reform tactics of the previous mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, that should be credited for the precipitous drop in violent crime that continued during Bloomberg’s administration.
What Bloomberg can take credit for, however, is fiscal conservatism that turned the city’s $6 billion budget deficit into a greater than $3 billion surplus during his mayoralty. New York City’s economy grew by leaps and bounds between 2002 and 2013, in the face of a serious impact created by the events of 9/11. These kinds of numbers are more impressive than some third world countries’ economies; however, the ways in which they were achieved — by giving huge latitude and tax breaks to real estate developers and billionaires — are less discussed.
New York City is a unique place, and some New Yorkers are of the feeling that Bloomberg’s reforms and changes occurred too swiftly to create a balanced quality of life for those in the city whose earnings were not in the six- or seven-figure bracket of many of Bloomberg’s contemporaries. There are also those who argue that Bloomberg’s poor handling of local crises, such as bureaucratic waste in the city’s school system or emergency management in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 are evidence that he would not be fit for higher office.
On the other hand, for those who don’t like Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee or Hillary Clinton as the possible Democratic nominee, he could provide a third choice that might be more palatable for some voters. This is where the “spoiler” factor comes in. Who would he take more votes away from?
The fact that he ran for mayor of New York City twice as a Republican (his third term was as an Independent) is misleading. Bloomberg had previously registered and identified as a Democrat, and those who understand New York City know that the city leans heavily Democratic.
Candidate positions on many issues such as abortion rights, gay rights and civil liberties are almost always tied to the traditional Democratic platform no matter who is running for office. By running for president as an independent candidate, Bloomberg is being more truthful to himself and his background than if he were to try and cloak himself in the mantle of the Republican party.
The reality, however, is that no third party candidate has ever won the presidency nor even come close since Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party showing in the election of 1912. While it’s true that Ross Perot took a healthy 18.9 percentage of the popular vote in 1992, he got no electoral votes, and he stumbled badly by first withdrawing from the race in the summer of that year and then reentering in October; his inconsistency pointedly contributed to negative opinions about him in the years following the election.
At the same time, it can be argued that today the country is more polarized than it was in 1992. The extremes from both parties are driving the campaigns. Far right and left positions are dominating and shouting out more moderate and centrist voices. Therefore, a Bloomberg option could be seen as an “escape valve” for the country’s angst. From a historical point of view, Bloomberg may not have a shot at winning (even if he does spend the $1 billion number he has discussed with friends), but he could certainly impact the campaigns of both of the major party candidates.
One thing that the media isn’t discussing much at this point is Bloomberg’s lack of personality. In the eyes of many American voters, he’s a fiscal conservative who could probably manage the country’s economy skillfully, but his lack of passion and “identifiability” with the common man or woman will almost surely doom his campaign. As someone the average American can relate to, he is much farther off the scale than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
He is essentially a “numbers guy” who lacks the charisma and even the entertainment value that both of the other likely candidates possess in spades. While he’s far from a simpleton, he doesn’t have the punch of Trump nor the foreign policy past of Hillary Clinton. He’s somewhat tone-deaf and grating as a speaker; he can’t even measure up to the color or quote-worthiness of former New York City mayors Giuliani or Ed Koch.
For Bloomberg, running is likely an exercise of his ego, as running for mayor of New York City was originally. The difference is that this time, he would be up against competition that’s most likely insurmountable.