Can Michael Bloomberg steal the presidency?

It's a long-shot for any independent, no matter how well-heeled, to win the presidency of the U.S., Neil Macdonald writes. Still, a Michael Bloomberg candidacy would really put the billionaire among the pigeons.

As billionaires go, there is a lot of air between a Donald Trump and a Michael Bloomberg

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, speaks during a panel discussion on"Climate Change and Financial Markets" alongside Bank of England governor Mark Carney at the UN climate conference in Paris in December. (Michel Euler/Associated Press)

It'll be interesting to see what Donald Trump, whose principal oratorical skill seems to be name-calling, has in store for Michael Bloomberg, a much more powerful tycoon who once ran New York City and now might want to be president.

Trump has gone after his closest Republican opponent, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, for being a "maniac" and, even worse, "born in Canada."

Dr. Ben Carson, the rather soft-spoken brain surgeon, has such a "pathological temper" that he resembles a child molester, according to Trump; while Sen. Marco Rubio perspires too much, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is ugly, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush is a boring weakling.

Trump, at least in his rich interior world, is the self-described master of the deal, someone to whom most people come as supplicants, seeking a crumb of his wealth, which was compiled solely by dint of his financial genius, a trait he is humbly offering in the service of his country.

Well, Trump could perhaps call Bloomberg "too rich." A truly self-made man (unlike Trump, he did not inherit wealth), Bloomberg is worth somewhere between $36 and $42 billion, about 10 times Trump's likely net worth (between $2.5 and $4.5 billion), and, unlike Trump, has never filed for bankruptcy.

But that would sound sort of jealous.

Perhaps he could call Bloomberg a "government insider," given his successful three terms as mayor of New York City. (Trump has never held any elected office.)

Or maybe "ideologically rigid." Bloomberg, after all, has stuck pretty much to his principles over the years, while Trump has, um, evolved drastically when necessary.

More likely, given his shameless propensity for racial stereotyping, Trump would muse about whether Bloomberg's real loyalties are with America or one particular country in the Middle East, then wink to his adoring supporters.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points to members of the audience as he departs a rally at a high school in Iowa on Sunday. The Iowa caucuses on Monday are the first test of primary season. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

But if Trump is victorious in Iowa's caucuses next week, and New Hampshire's primary on Feb. 9, he'd better think of something, because that's what Bloomberg seems to be waiting for.

Actually, the perfect scenario for a Michael Bloomberg candidacy would be Trump winning early Republican primaries and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders beating Hillary Clinton in the first two Democratic races, presenting American voters with a potential choice between an avowed socialist and a bombastic vulgarian building a cult of one.

Not a bad resumé

Bloomberg could then make the following points:

During his time as mayor of New York City, he oversaw a precipitous drop in crime.

He became one of the richest men in America because he's brilliant and lucky and worked hard. And unlike Trump, he intends to give most of his money away before he dies, rather than spend it on gaudy edifices dedicated to the eternal glory of Michael Bloomberg.

He's a fiscal conservative, although he has used the power of office to try to limit some of the toxic, sugary garbage sold to New Yorkers in fast-food joints (prompting red-meat righties like Sarah Palin to appear at podiums with gallon-size tankards of soda as an act of rugged individualist defiance).

And, like most Americans, Bloomberg wants some limits on the profusion of firearms in the U.S.

He has in fact been a singular force for gun control, earning him the hatred of the National Rifle Association and probably the disgust of the guns-and-Jesus crowd, who were never going to vote for him anyway. But surely that's an honourable distinction among rational voters.

Indeed, you would think Michael Bloomberg would be a natural pick for conservative blue-dog Democrats who are tired of Hillary Clinton's political triangulation, and moderate Republicans, who are being shoved out of the party by the grits-and-gravy revolt of the party's far-right, often evangelical "base."

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, is doing better than expected against Hillary Clinton in some polls of the early primary states. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

The trouble is, if he does enter the race, he will reportedly enter as an independent candidate, neither Republican nor Democrat, in a two-party system that has never been cracked.

Only a tiny chance

Should he run, Bloomberg would be sort of a non-crazed version of Ross Perot, the wealthy Texas businessman who at one point, in the 1992 presidential race, polled far ahead of both Bill Clinton and the Republican incumbent, George H.W. Bush.

Even after his bozo eruption over some sinister conspiracy to sabotage his daughter's wedding, and his subsequent three-month withdrawal from the race, Perot still won 19 per cent of the popular vote, more than any independent or third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt, a former president, founded the breakaway Progressive Party in 1912.

But, and this is important, Perot picked up not a single electoral college vote in either of his two tries, in 1992 and 1996.

That's the problem with an independent run in the U.S. system: the electoral college, a system designed to compensate for uneven population density, also tends to frustrate any third-party run.

"There is only a tiny chance [Bloomberg] would actually be elected president," the oracular Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia wrote me in an email.

"In fact, there is a far greater chance he would receive no electoral votes rather than accumulate the 270 needed to win. And if you can't win electoral college votes, you can't throw the election into the House — where Bloomberg would have zero chance anyway."

That was a reference to another strange American rule. In the case of a deadlock in electoral college votes, or in the event that no candidate receives a majority of them, the president is then selected by a vote in the House of Representatives, which Republicans control.

Still, the prospect of a Bloomberg candidacy is just too lovely to ignore.

Bloomberg is so rich he wouldn't need to fundraise. He wouldn't care what the ultra-right Koch brothers or the unions or casino king Sheldon Adelson, or any political action group might want.

He would be thoroughly his own man, and one with a mind of his own. Not to mention a civil, rational tongue in his head.

How great would it be to see him go head to head against the Blond Blowhard?

Oh, one last thing: If Hillary Clinton wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, it's unlikely Bloomberg would bother. His friends say he doesn't like wasting his time.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.