Joe Biden has been spooking the Clinton campaign by pulling on his candidate mask, jumping out from behind the political bushes and threatening an October — or November or December — surprise.
The efforts of Hillary operatives to tamp down enthusiasm for the Veep will be buttressed by the former secretary of state’s poised and polished performance in this week’s Democratic presidential debate. Clinton’s command of the stage has intensified the pressure on Biden to declare his intentions — either mount a late run for the nomination or say it ain’t a go, Joe, and get out of her way.
But the Clinton camp may be ignoring a sleeper who has been handed a stack of reasons to join the fray by candidates as far apart as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. And the CNN debate in Las Vegas added another prod that could prompt this undeclared candidate to come out of the shadows.
As a senator, Clinton was once a reliable vote for the New York financial community (daughter Chelsea even worked for the hedge fund Avenue Capital for three years). But as Clinton gets shoved left by the rein-in-the-rich voices of Sanders and Martin O’Malley, she will have to bail on the too-big-to-fail crowd if she wants to win the support of Elizabeth Warren progressives. So the banks and the Street will need another hero.
Enter Mike Bloomberg?
Rumors of a run for the presidency by the former New York City mayor have floated around for years and surfaced again in recent months in USA Today and the New York Post (both pieces tamped down by New York Magazine). Frequently these floaters have been punctured by the argument that a brash, super-rich, divorced, Jewish New Yorker who thinks big and is unafraid to speak his mind and crunch a few toes would have little chance on the national stage. But the Trump Tornado that roared across the country last summer has, despite losing some force in some polls lately, flattened those electorate assumptions one after another. And the surprising Sanders surge has crushed a few others.
The thrice-married Trump has made inroads with the Christian Right, for example, and his loudmouth, New Yawky persona is playing well in Iowa, where he still retains a 5.6-point lead among Republican voters, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average.
Certainly, Bloomberg is no Trump.
He’s not bombastic (though he can be sarcastic).
He’s not an obvious self-promoter (though he doesn’t have a problem taking a bow and after 12 years of running the highest-profile city in the world, he is a polished performer).
He’s not an outsider in this season of the non-pol that has seen the rise of Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina (though he isn’t a rubber-mouthed, career politician either).
And he’s not an unabashed egotist (through he was self-impressed enough to change the law so he could grab a third term and he, too, likes to put his name on things: Bloomberg LP, Bloomberg Media, Bloomberg Markets, Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg Politics, Bloomberg View and, of course, The Bloomberg — the financial data terminal that has made him a billionaire. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bloomberg Businessweek for about a year.)
If it’s a rich guy voters want, Bloomberg is almost 10 times wealthier than Trump, who likes to emphasize his worth by holding press conferences in the glitzy Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. Forbes just pegged Trump’s fortune at $4.5 billion (a number he vociferously contests as too low); it said Bloomberg is worth $38.6 billion.
And Bloomberg isn’t afraid to spend his cash in pursuit of public office. According to a 2009 story in The New York Times, he was on track to drop $110 million to $140 million on his last re-election campaign, and in toto spent about $250 million on his three mayoral bids. Plus, if Forbes is correct, Bloomberg is more than twice as wealthy now as he was back then.
If it’s a successful businessperson voters want, Bloomberg easily bests Trump (and Fiorina). Trump has skirted financial disaster more than once, while Bloomberg LP has never faltered since its inception.
If it’s a candidate with strong views voters want, Bloomberg, the man who banned smoking in almost every public nook of New York, who went after sugary drinks, who tried to restrict traffic in Midtown Manhattan, and who has been a major national force for gun control is every bit as opinionated as Trump.
And for voters of either party eager for a candidate who hates losing enough to do almost anything to win, Mayor Mike can go mano a mano with The Donald (apologies for the Spanish, Mr. Trump) all day long.
As a Democrat turned Republican turned independent, Bloomberg, like Trump, isn’t a slave any label except his own. He could run for the GOP nomination, which would be unlikely given his positions on gun control and abortion, or he could mount a third-party bid. But he would probably be most comfortable going after the Democratic nomination, like another independent, the Vermont socialist Senator Sanders.
Besides demonstrating the irrelevance of party affiliation, Bernie has also shown that being Jewish and a relatively old guy are not necessarily impediments to a 2016 presidential aspirant: Sanders is 74; Bloomberg is 73.
If immigration becomes one of the defining issues of the national race, not just the primary contest, the Bloomberg View, which rejects Trump’s send-‘em-all-home stance and posits reforms that put the U.S. economy first, might be appealing to swing voters and even some moderate Republicans.
And if Biden still has time to make a credible run for the nomination, so does Bloomberg. He may not have anywhere near the cross-the-country political connections of the vice president, but he has probably spread enough financial support around to call in some political IOUs. In addition, he has operatives who know how to run a campaign, like Kevin Sheekey, head of communications, public policy and marketing at Bloomberg LP, who oversaw Bloomberg’s three successful campaigns for mayor.
On Sept. 22, the 2016 campaign-manager-in-waiting tweeted: “I can’t be the only one who wishes Michael Bloomberg would enter the race, can I?”
More important, money would be no object.
As employees of Bloomberg LP would confirm, if they weren’t afraid of being shown the door of company headquarters in the Bloomberg Tower (wouldn’t a race from dueling towers be fun?), the mayor isn’t ready to retire.
Since he returned to the business that bears his name, Bloomberg hasn’t exactly been a passive owner. He’s taken the reins from CEO Dan Doctoroff, a onetime deputy mayor and confidant, and pushed aside Bloomberg News chief Matt Winkler, who co-wrote his autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg, and was thought to be as entrenched as barbed wire sunk in concrete atop a 10-foot wall.
Both moves were surprising, given Bloomberg LP’s obsession with loyalty. But they revealed one more way that Bloomberg one-ups Trump: He’s more unpredictable than the predictably unpredictable Donald.