Michael Bloomberg wants in! Why wouldn't he? He is worth $37 billion or $38 billion. (We really have to get that clarified.) He was a Democrat in private life, became a Republican to run for mayor of New York, then, in his final term as mayor, an independent.
Having said all this, this final prize will be an immense challenge. First, he has to get on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
(By the way, I'm very tired of seeing the District of Columbia, with its three electoral votes, forgotten about when discussing this matter. For those of you who want to be considered a truly educated and well-informed person, you should know that D.C., the nation's capital with a population of 650,000, had to wait until 1964 to be allowed to vote for president. Residents are still denied full representation in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. Now, after that important aside, back to Bloomberg.)
However, the technical and administrative task of ballot access is essential and eminently doable. Yes, signatures have to be gathered and each state (and D.C.!) has different numerical requirements. Some are particularly high and onerous. But with this prospective candidate, I believe money talks. Reports have surfaced that Bloomberg is prepared to spend $1 billion of his personal fortune. So if the Bloomberg campaign can't get sufficient volunteers to collect signatures, it will just pay for them. That settles the first hurdle.
But, before we get into various scenarios, it is important to point out that American voters seem to have a serious aversion to electing a president from a third party. Let's look at recent political history.
Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace did get 46 electoral votes in 1968; he carried five Southern states. But billionaire Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 failed to carry one state. Rep. John Anderson (Ill.) in 1980 failed to carry one state. Consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader in 2000 failed to carry one state. So when it comes to presidential elections, it sure seems to come down to red or blue.
As Ed Rollins has pointed out in USA Today, since the 2000 election, 40 states have voted for the same party every time. That means that the general election is all about 10 swing states with a total of 130 electoral votes. (The ultimate swing states are Florida and Colorado, each voting three times for the Democratic nominee and three times for the Republican in the last six elections.)
But enough political minutia. Bloomberg, to have a chance to succeed, needs one of these dramatic scenarios:
On the Republican side, Donald Trump becomes the nominee of the Republican Party. Trump, whom more than half of Americans find highly toxic, continues to make outlandish and absurd statements, insults almost every identifiable ethnic group, and day-after-day by his very presence embarrasses himself and the Republican Party. By the first Tuesday in November, he is viewed in no possible way as presidential, and there is a general consensus from voters that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is right: Trump is a "jerk."
Or the GOP nominates a very hard right, off-the-wall "conservative" such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas). Cruz is so odious and offensive by persona and ideology that moderate Republicans can't bear to cast a ballot for him. African-Americans, suburban moms and especially Hispanic voters, due to his hardline stance on immigration, come out in droves to make sure he is not elected.
Now, turning to the Democrats. Hillary Clinton is indicted for the email scandal. (I don't sincerely believe this should or will happen; remember, we are just speculating.) Democrats are not going to vote for an indicted candidate for president. They will jettison party loyalty and look elsewhere.
Or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) becomes the Democratic nominee and doesn't, upon getting the nod, completely drop the "socialist" label. Even if he says "democratic socialist" over and over again, centrist Democrats will not be able to stomach it and he will be truly viewed as unelectable and they will look and vote elsewhere.
I believe that Bloomberg, if he decides to run, would take significant votes away from Clinton or Sanders or any other Democrat who decides to enter the race. (Remember 1976, when former Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy, running as an independent, almost denied Jimmy Carter the White House? He won close to 750,000 votes, many of those from heavily Democratic states.) Now, Bloomberg is not flashy, colorful or charismatic, nor a soaring orator or a politician who possesses President Bill Clinton's charm and likeability. But he is an earnest, tough-minded, extremely practical and pragmatic 73-year-old businessman who would only win if the other choices seemed at the time so awful and so damaged that they appeared to be thoroughly un-presidential.
If that situation would arise, Bloomberg would present himself as successful, sensible, and, most importantly, seasoned. Someone the nation needed because the other available choices just didn't measure up. Bloomberg doesn't sell the sizzle; he sells the steak. Boring, bland, but straightforward and serious.
Americans could only turn to him, a man without a party label, if they find the other choices downright terrible and Bloomberg alone the constructive alternative.
This piece has been revised to add context to Eugene McCarthy's vote total in the 1976 presidential race.
Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.