Fox's Trump-less debate last night brought another colorful interlude to the disarray and randomness of this whole angry and discordant election cycle. But the big story this week could be elsewhere.
The survey by veteran pollster Frank Luntz shows Bloomberg within striking distance of the two leading major party candidates — Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Bloomberg would garner 29 percent, compared to 37 percent for Trump and 33 percent for Clinton.
A remarkable leap in less than one week. There will now be new polls next week and thereafter and my guess right now is that Bloomberg will rise again.
Indeed, the key player to this whole experience may not be The Donald after all, but billionaire Bloomberg. And if Bloomberg rises, he could revamp the whole approach to running for president, bypassing the street theater of the debates altogether. If Bloomberg advances and indeed if he wins, he will have transformed the political culture entirely. The low theater of the debates geared to primaries, which have come to suggest an "American Idol" lineup, may suddenly become passe. And Bloomberg will have won not in spite of ignoring the televised debates, but because he ignored the debates.
Trump was right to leave the stage behind in this week's Fox News debate. The debates can favor a certain approach and they can favor a politician who is good at only one thing — debating — which in no way determines the debater's ability to govern. They also favor those who know how to work an audience, like Trump. They favor and advance populist instincts and in hindsight, since the significant Kennedy vs. Nixon debates in 1960, they have brought dominance of the Hollywood and television media over the political process and weakened the body politic.
Trump was right to leave them behind. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) was right to threaten to walk off the stage. And former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) was right in his claim that the CNN debates were "rigged" for Clinton and Sanders. "Online poll: Was the CNN #DemDebate rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton?" he tweeted after the debate, referencing a Daily Caller sampling that shows 98 percent answering "yes."
In this cycle, the most telling symptom of this collective debasement of the political process might have been seen in the early Republican debates, in which distinguished governors from New York, Louisiana and Texas hardly made a blip in the polls and were the first to be ushered out. Something has happened to the process and something has happened to we the people in allowing ourselves to be led and formed by it. There needs to be a new approach.
And Bloomberg may have it. He is certainly catching on. There was a very big picture of him on the op-ed page of The New York Times on Wednesday. Courtney Weaver of the Financial Times has outlined the breakdown of third-party runs since Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party run in 1912, and her article suggests Bloomberg could have an opportunity.
Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, said to the Financial Times that "there may be in this [election] cycle one and only one opening." That opportunity would be if both parties selected nontraditional nominees: If the Democrats chose Sanders, or the Republicans chose Trump or Cruz.
Bennett said the possibility of that happening would be around 2 percent.
But the polls this week and next might give a different picture. If so, not only could Michael Bloomberg find his way to the White House in 2016 but could, from here on out, change the public theater of how we go about electing a president.
Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.