The New York Times went live Saturday morning with a story that isn’t really a surprise to those closely follow politics, but that has the possibility of shaking up the presidential race.
Michael Bloomberg, the multibillionaire former mayor New York, has authorized his political team to actively pursue the launch of a Bloomberg presidential candidacy as an independent. Bloomberg is said to have authorized the expenditure of $1 billion for this. Bloomberg is estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth above $36 billion, so it’s easy to imagine that if he was in a position to credibly win the presidency, the funds to maximize such a possibility would be available.
Bloomberg has publicly speculated that he might launch a self-financed independent bid in some past presidential cycles, but has never done so. This would surely be his last shot. Bloomberg is 73 and will turn 74 next month. He is seven months younger than Bernie Sanders. Either of them, if elected in November, would be the oldest president at the time of assuming office, although Ronald Reagan was just shy of 78 when he finished his second term. The possibility that Bloomberg would take this, his last shot, in 2016 has been a murmur for many months among those of us who obsess on such things.
The Times said Bloomberg “has set a deadline for making a final decision in early March, the latest point at which advisers believe Mr. Bloomberg could enter the race and still qualify to appear as an independent candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.” The last independent to pull that off was billionaire Ross Perot, who appeared on all 50 state ballots in both 1992 and 1996, but didn’t carry any states. No third-party candidate has ever won the U.S. presidency.
When I said above that a Bloomberg candidacy could shake up the presidential race, I meant that even if he is not in a position to win, it’s easy to imagine — especially in the chaos of the current race — that he could attract enough votes in many states to affect the outcome. The Times suggests that the conventional wisdom is that Bloomberg would probably draw more support away from the Democratic nominee. But the story also suggested that the opposite could be true. I have no opinion on that at this stage, and, of course, it would likely depend on who the major parties nominate. Certainly Bloomberg would position himself as the moderate in the race, able to attract disaffected members of either party.
Bloomberg was a Democratic during his early years, switched to the Republican Party to run for mayor and was at least technically a Republican during his first two terms, although he was left of the national party mainstream on many issues. He stopped calling himself a Republican in his 2009 bid for a third term, but under New York’s strange system appeared on the ballot line of the Republican Party and also appeared as an independent.
It was during the 2008 presidential cycle that he openly flirted with the idea of launching an independent candidacy for president.
The Times story is based on sources who did not allow their names to be used, but I’m sure this is for real.