I Like Mike: One Independent’s Case for Michael Bloomberg
In New Hampshire, where voters could pick which party’s primary to vote in, one of the most fascinating observations was that the choice for many came down to none other than Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
While these two candidates are far apart on policies, both are “outsiders” who are perceived as strong, authentic, and unable to be bought by special interests. And like any successful campaign, they tell a compelling story: one that plays on voters’ anxieties to explain why our country is in the state it is today and positions the candidates as the solution.
For Senator Sanders, the bankers and billionaires broke our economy and he will take back what is ours. For Mr. Trump, immigration and ISIS are threatening our way of life and he will protect us. So, they say they’ll make Medicare for all, or make Mexico pay for a wall, and so on.
In the end, both candidates won New Hampshire…by 20 point margins. Whether Sanders and Trump catch fire or flame out in the contests ahead, make no mistake: voters have clearly demonstrated they have had enough of the same old politicians from both parties.
The problem for many voters (like me), who are equally as fed up with politics as usual, is that Sanders’ and Trump’s diagnoses seem as incomplete as their prescriptions are ill-conceived. Not to mention, neither seem quite fit for the job of President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief.
In a political moment primed for an outsider candidate, who is the rational and responsible leader who will step forward?
A Third Option
Enter Michael Bloomberg –– a respected three-term mayor who ran the nation’s largest city and a successful entrepreneur who built one of the world’s largest media and information technology companies.
As the 2016 presidential primary season nears a fever pitch in the lead up to Super Tuesday, Mr. Bloomberg continues to weigh his options in entering the race as an independent candidate. Speaking at a private gathering on Thursday, he commented:
“The list of supposed villains we hear about is long, but the actual solutions that Americans seek have been in short supply…I know you don’t solve problems by pointing fingers, or making pie-in-the-sky promises. You solve them by bringing people together around common goals, promoting innovation, demonstrating independence, and recognizing that compromise is not a bad word.”
Mr. Bloomberg clearly sees an opportunity not only t0 tap into voters’ desire for an unconventional candidate but also to provide leadership that can channel voters’ fears and frustrations in a positive, pragmatic, and productive way.
But will he actually do it?
Those who keep the conventional wisdom claim Mr. Bloomberg will pass on his last realistic shot at the presidency –– inevitably concluding that he would only draw enough support away from the Democratic nominee to effectively elect the Republican in November.
But remember the last time professional pundits pontificated that a billionaire who previously flirted with presidency would not run and, if he did, would not be able to sustain or grow support?
For better or worse, Donald Trump has already proved them wrong, and we would be insane to heed their unimaginative predictions again.
The Bloomberg Path
Truth is, 2016 is an unpredictable election cycle fueled by pent up frustration at a political and economic system that voters believe is working against them and failing the country.
However, the candidates who are currently riding this powerful wave of populist anger and the candidates who are their most likely alternatives will be unpalatable to most Americans by the time of the general election.
Any matchup of Cruz or Trump vs. Clinton or Sanders will leave us with two of the most ideologically extreme or two of the most unpopular candidates in modern political history –– or some combination thereof.
Yet, the talking heads would have us believe that one of the country’s most successful businessmen and most able public servants who can self-fund a campaign right up the political middle would have no chance? Baloney!
Americans are open to considering a viable third option on their ballot. Independents now account for a plurality of all voters (43%), and nearly two thirds of Americans (60%) believe that both parties are doing such a poor job of representing the American people that a third option is needed — both record highs, according to Gallup polling.
There’s no doubt that independent candidates are stymied by obstacles that not only prevent them from winning, but from running in the first place.
The first is structural: navigating the system of signature collection and other rules to get on the ballot in every state. The second is political: being able to raise enough money to get a message out to voters and building a coalition across the spectrum. And the third is psychological: convincing citizens that their vote will not be wasted or, worse, cause the election of their least preferred candidate.
A Bloomberg candidacy can overcome traditional obstacles in a way that Ross Perot, a political neophyte, and John Anderson, a nationally unknown Congressman, simply could not in 1992 and 1980, respectively. That’s because Mr. Bloomberg has the record, resume, and resources necessary to mount a viable national campaign.
Moreover, Mr. Bloomberg’s socially tolerant and fiscally responsible views, along with his credentials as a solutions-oriented leader in business and in government, would propel his candidacy among a plurality of voters looking for pragmatic problem solver.
Early polling of this hypothetical three-way race is almost useless, as more than a quarter of voters have no opinion of the prospective candidate –– who is reportedly willing to spend upwards of $1 billion of his own fortune to get his message out.
If he enters soon, Mr. Bloomberg would have ample opportunity to define himself for the American people at a time when more people are paying attention to fewer candidates.
A Real Revolution
What is least certain is whether Mr. Bloomberg, or any candidate in a serious three-way race for that matter, could achieve the requisite majority of Electoral College votes to win the presidency outright or, if not, whether the election would be thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Here again, the conventional wisdom points out that no third party candidate has won a single electoral vote going back nearly 50 years –– even Perot, who earned 19% of the vote. This presumes, however, that independents are somehow incapable of winning statewide.
Jonathan Chait explains the fallacy of that argument:
“Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, Lowell Weicker in Connecticut, [and] Angus King in Maine, among others, have established the mechanical viability of defeating two major-party candidates. It is clearly possible for an independent to win a three-way race against two established party candidates in a state. And if it is possible to do it in a state, it is also possible to do so in enough states to add up to 270 electoral votes.”
In addition, a lot has changed since Perot campaigned using an 800 number for volunteers and PO Box for donations. A campaign can be assembled and activated much more quickly and effectively in the current age of the Internet and social media, allowing for a robust 50-state effort. While both parties have rigged the rules decidedly in their favor, the playing field has never been more level for a third party challenge.
In all probability, Mr. Bloomberg would win a majority of electoral votes with 35-45% of the popular vote and would not win any with less than 25%. Anything in between could deny any candidate a majority; what happens next, if tossed to the House, is anyone’s guess.
Yet the very chance of Congressional politicians picking our next president because of an arcane Constitutional provision –– no less, at a time when voters don’t trust Washington with any decision of consequence –– would shine a spotlight on our broken and outdated political process.
The Electoral College is therefore as much Mr. Bloomberg’s largest obstacle as it is his largest opportunity to define and stake his campaign, from the very beginning, on a reform agenda that can bring our governing institutions into the 21st Century.
His campaign could, for example, fuel the effort for states to adopt the National Popular Vote interstate compact, which would ensure the winner of the popular vote is elected president. It’s already 60% toward completion.
With any initial success on that would-be salient issue, momentum could build for increasing choice, competition, and participation in our political system in other ways –– such as ending partisan gerrymandering, opening primary elections to all voters, lowering barriers to voting, removing discriminatory ballot access laws, and reforming campaign finance.
These are all tough issues that would take a long time to solve, but with a strong independent like Mr. Bloomberg at the top of the ticket and a grassroots movement organized across the country, the floodgates could open for reform-minded candidates all the way down ballot. His candidacy could catalyze a real political revolution against our broken two-party system and build the infrastructure for systemic political reform at all levels.
No Way to Lose
If he decides to run, Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign would immediately be set apart from the other “outsider” candidates.
Rather than tell an incomplete story of who we can can blame for America’s problems, Mr. Bloomberg can encourage us to accept responsibility for our gridlocked and corrupt political system that has left us unable to govern in our own long-term interest.
Rather than offer empty “make America great again” rhetoric or impractical “it’s-a-right-not-a-privilege” plans, he can forge consensus on the best ideas to address our toughest challenges without regard to party dogma –– from our rising debt to our changing climate.
Most importantly, rather than playing to least common denominator of his political base, he can inspire all Americans to our greatest potential.
If Mr. Bloomberg spends the next eight months bringing the country together, offering meaningful solutions, and elevating the discourse of the campaign –– all while laying the foundation for a political reform movement –– then there simply would be no way for him to lose, regardless of what happens on Election Day.
With ballot deadlines around the corner, time is running out for Mr. Bloomberg to make a decision; for our country’s sake, let’s hope he gets in.