Chicago Tribune: President Bloomberg?

JAN. 26, 2016 — This has been the wildest and most unpredictable presidential campaign in memory, and no one has voted yet.

There’s no law saying it can’t get even crazier. With Donald Trump and Ted Cruz leading the Republican field and Bernie Sanders threatening to torpedo Hillary Clinton, some Americans are worried they will be faced with only unthinkable options on the November ballot.

One of those people has the means to do something about it: Michael Bloomberg.

The former New York mayor is considering a run as an independent. His thinking reportedly is that if the two major parties shun experienced and relatively centrist contenders, there will be a big gap in the middle of the political spectrum that he could fill.

“If you have a Democratic front-runner who is opposed to capitalism and a Republican front-runner who wants to deport 10 million immigrants,” one insider told Politico, Bloomberg would be more inclined to jump in.

The last interloper with broad appeal was Ross Perot, who in 1992 rose to first place in the polls and eventually captured 19 percent of the popular vote. (His 1996 campaign was far less potent.) His candidacy, however, was the reverse image of what Bloomberg could offer.

Perot was the angry outsider challenging two middle-of-the-road candidates, Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton, whom Perot regarded as champions of an unsatisfactory status quo. Bloomberg would make the case against angry outsiders.

The case for taking Bloomberg seriously is that he’s a pragmatic problem-solver who as mayor produced a budget surplus and lowered the crime rate. He has a fiscally conservative, socially liberal outlook that many voters share but the major party candidates may not offer. The financial data company he founded has made him one of the wealthiest people in the world. He has plenty of money to spend on a campaign.

The case against his prospects? He’s argued in the past that a “short, Jewish, divorced billionaire” would be a tough sell nationally. Overcoming American voters’ attachment to their political party has never been easy. He would be depicted as a nanny-state liberal who wants to deprive Americans of guns and giant sodas. But liberals have their own complaints: His “stop and frisk” police tactics alienated many blacks, he battled with unions and he’s about as close to Wall Street as anyone could be.

Bloomberg toyed with the idea of an independent or third-party run for president in 2008 and 2012, only to back off. In an ordinary year, Bloomberg probably wouldn’t be pondering a run — and if he were, no one would be taking him seriously.

But political experts have been about as reliable as astrologers this year. No one expected Trump to dominate the race month after month. No one expected Jeb Bush to be a nonentity. No one expected a democratic socialist from Vermont elected to the Senate as an independent, not a Democrat, to give Clinton nightmares.

History and political logic suggest that Bloomberg can’t be elected, though he could attract enough votes to change the outcome. “It is far more likely that if he ran, Bloomberg would play a spoiler role than emerge as the winner,” says David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

If you have confidence in history and political logic, there are powerful reasons to think Bloomberg won’t run, much less win. But it’s risky to assume that the realities we take for granted are as relevant as they used to be.

President Bloomberg, impossible? Maybe so. But the word “impossible” has been redefined more than once in this campaign.

By Chicago Tribune