By David Keene - 06/26/07 06:25 PM EDT
The news that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to buy the White House shouldn’t really surprise anyone, but whether he will actually run seems an open question.
It has been rumored for some time that his aides have been analyzing the potential viability of a Bloomberg candidacy, but the mayor’s decision last week to abandon the Republican Party has sparked renewed interest in what he’s up to. He’s selling his company, is rumored to be the single wealthiest man in New York City and has hinted that if he does decide to run, he would be willing to spend somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion of his own money.
This, combined with the results of a recent Rasmussen poll that indicates something like 27 percent of the electorate would at least consider voting for Bloomberg, has people taking him seriously as a potential modern-day Ross Perot. Bloomberg himself has said that he’s spent a good deal of time studying Perot’s candidacy; one suspects that his up-front commitment to spend a lot of his own money is a result of that study.
Perot had other problems, of course, but his failure to put up as much of his own money as he’d hinted he would sealed his fate and may have helped elect Bill Clinton in 1992. Bloomberg spent more buying the New York City mayor’s office than his Texas friend was willing to cough up for the White House.
I still remember sitting next to Perot at a dinner in early 1991. The woman sitting on his other side asked him what he did to relax, and Perot informed her that he loved to sail. “Do you have a boat?” she asked with some interest. “Yes,” he said, “a Hobie Cat.”
The woman, somewhat taken aback, asked why, if it was his passion, he didn’t have a bigger boat on which he could spend more time. Perot’s answer said it all. “Madam,” he said, “do you know how much it costs to maintain such a boat?” I knew then that if he did run, the little Texan was too cheap to really open up his own checkbook.
Bloomberg has more money and his track record suggests he knows that spending it can make a difference. When he ran for mayor for the first time in 2001, Bloomberg adopted the GOP because there were so many potential Democratic candidates and spent $69 million to win.
The real question, of course, is what impact he will have if he does run. He has said that he wants to wait to see who the Republicans and Democrats nominate and has reportedly told friends that he won’t run if it means that at the end of the day his candidacy will end up defeating someone like Hillary Clinton.
Superficially, that would appear to be exactly what a Bloomberg candidacy would do. He’s been described by former FEC Commissioner Michael Toner as “Ross Perot on steroids,” but in reality he might turn out to be not Perot, but a souped-up version of Ralph Nader. The man is the quintessential Manhattan liberal on issues from abortion to guns and just about everything else. The Weekly Standard’s Fred Siegel and Michael Goodwin summed the man up fairly succinctly recently, urging readers to “Think of a sane George Soros.” It is difficult for me to see him drawing many Republican or conservative votes unless a broad hostility to both party candidates develops over next summer.
Bloomberg seems to sense that this could happen. If both parties nominate candidates unpopular with large numbers of voters, and if those candidates essentially lock things up by February, as some predict they will, everything could change.
The period from February to the conventions will be dominated by negative independent campaign ads that will drive up the negatives of each of the nominees by the time they are officially nominated. The news will be filled with reports of Republicans, Democrats and independents with second thoughts about the choices they’ll have in November.
As that happens, some disgusted partisans could decide to stay home and softer supporters of each nominee could start looking for someone else — maybe even for someone like Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg, as an independent, can get in late by beginning to collect signatures and qualify for ballot placement in, say, March, after the nominees are known and after his advisers get a preliminary read on whether he might be able to win it all.
It’s a long shot, and he would risk either a humiliating loss à la Perot or the blame for defeating a fellow liberal, but Bloomberg is, if nothing else, a risk taker — and he might consider the White House worth the risk and a half billion dollars.
Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com.