Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former emperor of New York City, is dipping a 73-year-old toe into the whitewaters of the 2016 presidential race, The New York Times and other news outlets are reporting.
Last October, a column I wrote for The Fiscal Times suggested why he might see an opening. The question now is this: If Bloomberg is drawn into this bruising campaign season, could he really have a shot?
A poll at the end of last week by Morning Consult found that in a three-way race with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Bloomberg would get 13 percent, with Clinton at 36 percent and Trump a at 37 percent, a statistically insignificant edge.
A Morning Consult poll today finds that in a three-way race with Trump and Bernie Sanders, Bloomberg would get slightly less support at 12 percent, with Sanders and Trump neck and neck at 35 percent and 34 percent, respectively. (Interestingly, he would get 18 percent of independents in this matchup vs. 11 percent in a contest with Trump and Clinton.)
But according to “The Vibe” on 30dB, a nonpartisan firm that gauges social media sentiment (and, full disclosure, for which I consult), the immediate reaction to a Bloomberg candidacy as of this morning is considerably more promising at 60 percent positive — even though the possibility of a run is probably not yet top of mind nationally.
“Please God, yes!” wrote one excited tweeter.
According to The Times, Bloomberg will make a decision by March and could be swayed to run if either Trump or Cruz looks to be the GOP candidate and if Bernie Sanders seems likely to best Clinton for the Democratic nod.
There are plenty of reasons Trump, Cruz and every other crazy horse in this wacky race should worry about Bloomberg. He’s sane, sensible, tested, reliably thoughtful and not dragging around more baggage than Lady Gaga on tour.
But the single biggest reason to fear the former mayor is that he is a politician with a proven track record who also happens to be fabulously wealthy. In fact, compared with Bloomberg, Trump is a church mouse (or mouth) on food stamps. The Forbes list of billionaires puts Trump’s fortune at $4.5 billion; Bloomberg’s worth is estimated to be $38.6 billion.
Bloomberg is not shy about putting his money where his ambition is: He spent an estimated $250 million on his three mayoral bids, and the Times story says Bloomberg has suggested that he would be willing to part with at least $1 billion to mount a third-party insurgency.
Bloomberg is fiercely competitive and determined. When he felt as though his work as mayor wasn’t done, he pushed for and got a law change that allowed him to run for a third term — a controversial move that still has some New Yorkers seething.
Trump had spent about $2 million of his own money as of last November and had collected almost $4 million in “unsolicited donations,” according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that aims to make politics more transparent. That’s chump change compared with what Trump would have to shell out to win the presidency should he get the Republican nomination, and you have to wonder how big a dent he would be willing to put in his fortune to maintain even the appearance of a campaign financially beholden to no one.
Even Sanders, who has eschewed affiliated super PACs, has had unaffiliated ones, although according to the Sunlight Foundation his campaign has asked them to cease raising money.
With Bloomberg, voters wouldn’t have to worry about murky financial support or favors owed to unions. More than any other candidate, he could say without caveats that he comes with no strings attached.
Sure, Bloomberg originally was a creature of Wall Street, but while he maintains solid relations with the financial community that rents his terminals (he’d have to, wouldn’t he?), the Street doesn’t own him.
After months of watching a carnival of bloviating, boasts, cheap shots and the usual Clinton dramas (foundation donors, emails, Benghazi), maybe America is ready for a compact candidate who doesn’t need to wear elevator heels. Maybe America is ready for a billionaire candidate who doesn’t belittle those less fortunate and wave his wallet like some magic political wand. Maybe America is ready for an adult who would be president.
One wag on Facebook wrote of a Bloomberg candidacy: “Works for me. But two terms only this time, OK?”
Updated at 1:15 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25.