Disillusioned by Volatile Campaign, Bloomberg Mulls Independent Run

PHOTO COURTESY OF FORBES

In an ever-baffling campaign season in which candidates on the far right and left are drawing angry primary voters, pundits are beginning to take seriously what for months they have discounted. As Donald J. Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz on the Republican side and Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side are energizing the fringes and rising in the polls, the so-called establishment has grown increasingly unsettled.

Enter — perhaps — Michael Bloomberg.

News outlets reported yesterday that the former mayor of New York City has begun to lay the framework for a possible independent presidential candidacy in this year’s general election.

This is not the first time Mr. Bloomberg has considered a bid for president. He has never entered a race, determining that there was no conceivable path for a third-party candidate to the White House. This year, however, could be different.

Despite seemingly weekly proclamations from politicos that there was simply no way Mr. Trump could hold on to his front-runner status, the real estate developer can proudly point to double-digit leads over the Republican field in New Hampshire and in national polls. He is locked in a close battle with Mr. Cruz for Iowa, where caucus-goers will vote in just over one week. Both candidates have angled to portray themselves as outsiders prepared to fight on behalf of conservatives against, as Mr. Cruz puts it, the “Washington cartel.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is no longer a sure thing. Although in national polls she maintains a substantial advantage over Mr. Sanders, who has allured younger Democrats with a seemingly purer and more radical form of liberalism, her campaign is showing signs it is concerned by the surging Vermont senator, who is narrowing the gap in Iowa and leading in New Hampshire.

For those in the center unnerved by the possibility of a Trump-Sanders or Cruz-Sanders matchup — including, according to reports, Mr. Bloomberg himself — the former mayor is an intriguing possibility. With liberal views on such social issues as guns and abortion and more conservative positions on the economy, he could build a coalition spanning the ideological divide. No Labels, an independent group he helped launch in 2010, could provide him a legitimate 50-state apparatus.

Mr. Bloomberg has asked advisors to make plans for a possible run and set early March as the deadline for his final decision. A self-made businessman and billionaire, he is reportedly willing to spend as much as $1 billion on a campaign.

After the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9, he will conduct polls to determine the viability of an independent campaign. Aides are currently studying past third-party candidacies, especially those of John Anderson and H. Ross Perot.

Mr. Bloomberg would present a “non-ideological, bipartisan, results-oriented vision,” an advisor told The New York Times in an email.

A former Democrat, he was elected mayor in 2001 as a Republican but became an independent in 2007. “We have achieved real progress by overcoming the partisanship that too often puts narrow interests above the common good,” he said of his announcement at the time. “As a political independent, I will continue to work with those in all political parties to find common ground, to put partisanship aside and to achieve real solutions to the challenges we face.”

Although he worked together with Mrs. Clinton while she was a New York senator, Mr. Bloomberg is not ruling out entering the race even if she wins the Democratic nomination, depending on how weakened she is by the battle. She has continued to face questions about her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

Meanwhile, the crowded field of establishment Republicans — including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Florida senator Marco Rubio and the newly resurgent Ohio governor John Kasich — is increasingly muddled as it looks to present an alternative to Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz.

Should none of those candidates emerge, Mr. Bloomberg could become a serious general election contender.

Mr. Trump, for one, is not concerned. “I would love to see Michael run,” he said before a rally in Pella, Iowa. “I would love the competition.”