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The Case Against Mike Bloomberg

Earlier in the week, we argued why New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg should make a bid for the presidency in 2008. Today we play devil's advocate -- making the case why a presidential run would be the wrong choice for Bloomberg.

No Mike No!

History paints a daunting picture for independent candidacies. Activist Ralph Nader sought the presidency in 2000, receiving less than three percent of the vote. Many people believe Nader siphoned off votes from Vice President Al Gore and helped President George W. Bush win the disputed election. Businessman Ross Perot made two runs at the White House as an independent, taking around 19 percent of the vote in 1992, but just eight percent in a return bid in 1996. In 1980 Rep. John Anderson (R-Ill.) received nearly seven percent in his independent bid for the presidency. Twelve years before that former Alabama Gov. George Wallace received 13.5 percent of the vote in his third-party bid against Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey. Even a former President -- Theodore Roosevelt -- was unable to win as a third party candidate. He took 27 percent of the vote in 1912, splitting the Republican base with William Howard Taft and handing the presidency to Woodrow Wilson.

So history tells us that third party candidates for president over the past 100 years serve more as spoilers than as serious candidates for the office. Why? Because over the past century the two party system has grown increasingly entrenched in American politics -- both organizationally and financially. To run as an independent candidate, you must not only find a separate pool of financing (not a problem for the billionaire Bloomberg) but also navigate your way through 50 different sets of ballot access laws for each of the states. While Unity 08 or some other similar third party group could certainly help Bloomberg ensure he gets on the ballot, it is a massive struggle that neither of the two major parties must go through.

Aside from the logistical problems with a Bloomberg bid are the ideological ones. Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat before crossing over to the Republican side to avoid a nasty (and costly) Democratic primary in 2001. While his apolitical managerial focus has won him kudos in New York City, presidential elections are, by their nature, hyper-partisan affairs. In that sort of environment, it's hard to see what Bloomberg's constituency looks like.

He is too liberal to attract most Republican voters and too conservative to win over large numbers of Democratic voters. While there are huge amounts of unaffiliated/independent voters in the country, most of them tend to favor one party over the other in most major elections. Is it conceivable that Bloomberg could scoop up scads of unaligned voters who have grown sick of politics as usual? Yes. Is it probable? No.

The other major problem for Bloomberg is his total lack of foreign policy experience. Coming off of eight years of President George W. Bush, the American electorate is likely to be looking for a candidate who can restore our tarnished image on the world. Would that candidate be a successful businessman whose only experience in elected office is as the mayor of New York City? It seems unlikely. Bloomberg could allay some of those doubts by choosing someone like Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who has a wealth of foreign policy experience and has been an outpspoken critic of the war in Iraq, as his running mate. But, voters don't tend to vote for president based on the vice presidential nominee. They want to know the man (or woman) sitting in the Oval Office has the experience to hit the ground running and make informed decision about America's role in the world. That is a tough bar for Bloomberg to clear.

And, finally, Bloomberg is from New York. So are former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) -- the current frontrunners for their respective parties' nominations. While The Fix is from the Northeast and has spent many a happy time in New York, it just doesn't seem likely that if New Yorkers win both the Republican and Democratic nominations there will be a national desire to add a THIRD New Yorker to the national ballot. Perhaps that's why Bloomberg is content to wait on the sidelines until the two nominees are chosen.

Bloomberg has made clear he has no interest in simply serving as a spoiler in 2008; he is only likely to run if he believes he can win. And, he just can't win. While large numbers of Americans express interest in a viable third party option, when it comes down to voting they tend to choose the familiar. History is a guide here. No one in the last century has come close to winning the presidency outright while running a third party candidacy. And, if anything, the two party system has grown increasingly strong over the past 50 years or so; the best a third party candidate can do given the current system is come close to replicating Perot's 1992 showing. And 19 percent nationally does not get you elected President. Bloomberg knows that. He is a businessman first and foremost. Any good businessman would see throwing $500 million at a race where 19 percent is the ceiling is a bad investment.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 24, 2007; 12:12 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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