Article by David Willis, Flinders PhD Candidate
Michael Bloomberg – the former New York Mayor (2002-2013) and owner of eponymous media company Bloomberg – announcement on the 7th of March that he will not launch an independent bid for the presidency all but confirms the near certainty of a Clinton presidency.
Bloomberg began entertaining the prospect of entering the race for the White House in late January, just before polls began in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The 74-year old, Jewish New York billionaire saw an opening in the event of a contest between the also 74-year old and Jewish, self-described “democratic socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders and the slightly younger 69-year old, also New York billionaire, populist businessman/celebrity Donald Trump. With the weaknesses of more “establishment” candidates like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (who has now withdrawn), Bloomberg sensed a gap in the political centre. Rough cuts of planned campaign ads presented Bloomberg as the ‘no nonsense, non-ideological, centrist, results-oriented” leader to fix America’s broken politics. The bid was so serious as to have former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael G. Mullen vetted as a potential running mate.
In a 1000-word op-ed on his own Bloomberg View, Bloomberg declared that he would not run, given that: ‘As the race stands now, with Republicans in charge of both Houses, there is a good chance that my candidacy could lead to the election of Donald Trump or [hard-line conservative Texas] Senator Ted Cruz. That is not a risk I can take in good conscience.’ Based on research revealing that on current trends (with Clinton in the race) he would not be able to win an absolute majority of the Electoral College (the body that determines US presidents) and that the authority to pick the president would fall to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which would likely choose its own party’s nominee either Trump or Cruz. Although the Republican House is not well disposed toward Trump, with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan having disavowed Trump twice in recent months for his proposal to temporarily ban non-American Muslims and his failure to immediately denounce former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and other white supremacist groups in a national television interview. While Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has begun plans for his fellow Senate colleagues to distance themselves from Trump in the case that he leads the party in the autumn.
The Republican-led Congress is showing signs that it may actually be more disposed towards Cruz, famously and often attacked by Trump for being despised by his Senate colleagues, none of which have yet endorsed him. Well-known South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who had endorsed Jeb Bush after withdrawing his own bid for the presidency in December, has changed his tune on Cruz. Joking only two weeks ago that if one murdered Cruz and held the trial in the Senate, they’d get away scot-free. But after the contests on Super Tuesday in which Cruz demonstrated again that he could win states against Trump, Graham has publicly ruminated on supporting Cruz as an anti-Trump measure. Cruz however is no more palatable to moderates than Trump, with Bloomberg adding in his op-ed that ‘Senator Cruz’s pandering on immigration may lack Trump’s rhetorical excess, but it is no less extreme. His refusal to oppose banning foreigners based on their religion may be less bombastic than Trump’s position, but it is no less divisive.’
So why did Bloomberg ultimately decide not to run? Was it the fear of Trump/Cruz? Real answer: Hillary Clinton. As has been previously argued on this blog, Clinton’s early troubles have largely faded as insurgent Sanders’ campaign has failed to gain equal levels of support from the Democratic Party’s diverse demographics. The results in South Carolina made this clear, Super Tuesday confirmed it. Electoral College modelling done by the Bloomberg camp showed that while Bloomberg did well in a three-way contest with Sanders and Trump, he did not in a Clinton and Trump race. Additionally, Clinton is close both personally and ideologically to Bloomberg. The former mayor had reportedly encouraged her to succeed him to lead New York City, and Clinton is closest to his form of moderate politics that lean fiscally conservative and socially liberal, only the long-shot Ohio Governor John Kasich comes close to that mantle on the Republican side.
With Bloomberg’s decline to run, a serious political figure that had skin in the game (this was 74-year old Bloomberg’s last realistic chance of running) is indicating his belief that Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and either Trump or Cruz will be the Republican nominee. Notwithstanding some indications to the contrary, US Presidential contests are still won in the centre, despite ideological candidates like Cruz and Sanders arguments that all they need to do is get the base out to vote by being authentically conservative/progressive. But in the words of former Republican President Richard Nixon: “To win [the Republican nomination], tack to the right in the primaries. But, once nominated, run pell-mell toward the centre in the general election.” The pure ideology of Cruz or the extreme populism of Trump will likely make this tacking back to the centre impossible, as would Sanders’ socialism, increasing the appeal of Clinton. Ending his bid now (early March was always going to be decision-time as it is the latest one could begin gathering petitions to add a name to the November ballot) Bloomberg has indicated that there is not sufficient room for a moderate with Clinton in the race. This is good news for Australia, whose policymakers have a strong preference for a Clinton presidency. If I was a betting man, I’d put my money where the self-made billionaire’s is and comfortably bet that this time next year we’ll be looking at the first female President of the United States.
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