Michael Bloomberg's departure from the Republican Party (how can you leave if you never were really in it, in the first place) reminds us that he isn't the first mayor of New York City to quit the GOP in preparation for a presidential run -- John Lindsay did so (to become a Democrat) in 1971. (The final straw that prompted LaGuardia's retirement in 1945 was the local GOP's refusal to support him for a fourth term, just as the American Labor Party -- which had backed him in 1937 and 1941 -- had concluded an alliance with the Democrats. But La Guardia probably wasn't going to run anyway). Lindsay fared poorly in the primaries, and soon faded into political oblivion.
My hunch is that Bloomberg wil not end up running. His aides say that he would only run if he had a serious chance of winning -- and third party candidates almost never do. In other words, he may be too sane to run.
The arguments for his candidacy:
-- He could outspend everyone else.
-- Both parties are troubled. The Republicans are completely discredited. The Democrats are in much better shape, but the Democratic Congress has already been saddled with the "do-nothing" label. That's mostly because of Bush's veto pen, but it has hurt both sides. Bush seems remarkably uninterested in his own political standing. An anti-Washington crusade could far well today (launched from the Upper East Side??).
-- "The businessman in politics" schtick never gets old.
-- Both parties could have nominees with serious problems. Hillary is disliked by 40 percent or more of Americans. Any Republican nominee (but especially Romney or Thompson) is vulnerable to the "third term for Bush" argument. Bloomberg does not like Giuliani.
The arguments against:
-- Third party candidates don't get elected president. So they either run to "send a message" (George Wallace) or to satisfy their egos (Ross Perot). Bloomberg doesn't seem to have a message or that sort of ego hunger.
-- Bloomberg agrees with Democrats on virtually everything (taxes, environment, gay rights, gun control, abortion, smoking). (On some of these concerns, he is actually to the left of most Democrats). He doesn't seem to have a pet issue he wants to push. What's his message?
-- Unlike Ross Perot, there doesn't seem to me any significant number of Americans not on Bloomberg's payroll who want him to run. Perot may have been nuts, but he was a real hero to many. Do you know anyone who idolizes Bloomberg? What's the constituency for a short, Jewish, divorced, uncharismatic billionaire from New York?
-- He may own Bloomberg Television, but Bloomberg's not good television.
I'm not sure who Bloomberg would takes votes away from. His views align him with Democrats, but Republicans tend to like the idea of a businessman running things. In a Hillary vs. Thompson / Romney, Bloomberg might appeal to voters (soft Republicans, independent men) who are dissatisfied with the GOP but can't stand Hillary. I suspect younger white men would be most likely to back Bloomberg. In a Hillary-Giuliani race, I don't know how Bloomberg could play a role, except to trash Rudy. The real opening in such a race would be on the social right.
And the real opening in American politics is for a "Lou Dobbs" nationalist-populist-isolationist candidacy: anti-immigrant, protectionist, to hell with the Arabs and their insoluble problems. Bloomberg couldn't be more different.