Just when you thought this primary campaign could not get any funnier, here comes Michael Bloomberg and his potential third-party campaign. Because if there is one thing the whole carnival has been missing, it is a humorless billionaire who could throw away a fortune on a vanity presidential run and barely notice the dent in his checking account.
There’s a campaign slogan for you. Michael Bloomberg for President: Sure, Why Not.
To be fair, Bloomberg has more experience as an elected politician than the Republican frontrunner or even most of the GOP field. He spent three terms as mayor of New York City, a huge job that requires a thick skin and a level of toughness that could serve him well in a long presidential campaign. His policy positions tend to be a mixture of fiscally conservative and socially liberal, with a dash of the authoritarian law-and-order self-righteousness that will likely raise the ire of the left and those libertarians who are genuinely concerned with law-enforcement overreach, not just posing because they see criminal justice reform as a Trojan horse to smuggle major cuts to government regulations into the system.
In other words, there is plenty for people of all political persuasions to hate about Michael Bloomberg.
But the former mayor is considered a centrist of the sort who makes the “both sides are the same” reflexes of the Beltway class of commentators and opinion-makers and Sunday talk-show guests start twitching. Bemoaning the existence of partisanship in our system might be the most tired argument in politics, but that doesn’t stop the David Brookses and Thomas Friedmans of the world from gathering at round tables every week to marvel at the hard-right drift of the Republican Party while suggesting that the Democrats are equally at fault for political polarization because they elected that unrepentant Marxist, Barack Obama.
This ridiculous centrism prizes compromises above all else, even when the policy pursued by one side is objectively terrible. It neglects the possibility that when there are two sides to an issue, one of those sides might genuinely suck!
Take the fetishism for a “Grand Bargain” on the national debt a few years ago. By any measure, cutting government spending so deeply as to eliminate Meals on Wheels programs and subsidized school lunches for poor children would mean an inhuman level of suffering for the nation’s poor. But people making above $250,000 a year would see their marginal tax rates return to Clinton-era levels. To the centrists, this latter suffering is just as necessary-if-tragic as the former. Compromise achieved!
There is no reason to think that a Bloomberg presidential administration would be any more successful at bridging these gaps with a recalcitrant Congress than Obama, a moderate technocrat, has been. But it’s a measure of how terrified certain people are of turning the Oval Office over to a radical nutcase like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or an “avowed socialist” like Bernie Sanders that they are entertaining Bloomberg’s run as a cure for what ails us.
Here, for example, is Charles Wheelan in U.S. News and World Report telling us that “the national political scene is screaming out for adult leadership” and practically drooling over the possibility of Bloomberg “dedicat[ing] his money and clout to reshaping American politics by giving form to a new political movement of the center.” Wheelan’s post is a fantasia backed up by exactly zero evidence that Bloomberg could somehow “build the apparatus to forge centrist independents into a political movement that would immediately begin pushing both parties to the political margins.” He builds his entire case on the premise that at some point, this political realignment making centrism, well, front and center has to happen. So we might as well let Michael Bloomberg be the man to bring about this radical change, despite the complete lack of reasons to believe this is possible or even desirable.
Or take this post by GOP establishment fluffer Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post. Rubin is not thrilled by some of Bloomberg’s less conservative positions, but she would love it if this moderate centrist could let the entire GOP slip out of this far-right corner it has painted itself into by spending the last 40 years riling up radical conservatives who are now demanding their pound of flesh:
“The GOP will have an opportunity for a reset. Republicans of good conscience can vote for Bloomberg without corrupting the party or twisting themselves into ideological pretzels. Without consigning the country to either Sanders, Clinton or Trump, Republicans can make the best of a desperate situation, gain their bearings, restructure their primary process and immediately begin work on developing legitimate 2020 contenders. In essence, Bloomberg gives them a way to reclaim their party without handing the party over to Trump or the country over to Sanders or Clinton.”
In Rubin’s fantasy, Bloomberg is apparently some sort of Father Merrin type who has the potential to rid the GOP of the toxic right-wing extremist parasite that has burrowed into its brain and taken over most of its higher functions. She’s assuming there even is a Republican Party left to push out the crazies and realign itself with the moderate history it left behind around the time Dwight Eisenhower left office.
Given Donald Trump’s continued popularity, there is zero reason to think that such a realignment is in the offing. It may be comforting for some people to think the cavalry is just around the corner. But Rubin and anyone else hoping for a moderate to lead a revolution realigning the American political system in 2016 around a modest centrism that breaks the stranglehold of tribal party loyalty on the current electorate will at some point have to make peace with the vast unlikelihood of such a scenario occurring. There is too much inchoate anger coursing through the public’s veins right now, and it will take much more than a colorless blob of wheat germ like Michael Bloomberg to calm it down.