Wall Street executives are nervous, and not just about the Chinese economy. They're nervous because, here at home, the battle for 2016 looks like it might end up stacked against them. On the Democratic side, the senator from Wall Street is losing ground to Wall Street's arch-nemesis, Bernie Sanders. On the Republican side, unguided missile Donald Trump, who promises to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, leads the pack. Ted Cruz, no friend of Wall Street either, lurks close behind.
Yes, Wall Street's nervous. So several financial titans have been making calls to the only man they believe can save them from Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders. Wall Street's calling Michael Bloomberg. And, as first reported by the New York Times, Bloomberg is flattered. So flattered, in fact – or is it so bored? – that he's already dispatched aides to cobble together a strategy on how to run as an independent candidate for president in 2016 – in case Trump and Sanders, or Cruz and Sanders, become the major party nominees. And Bloomberg has indicated he's willing to spend $1 billion of his own money on such a quixotic bid.
There you go. Just what we need in this already-wild 2016 campaign: one more candidate! But actually, the three-term former mayor of New York has a lot more to offer than most of the other candidates in the race. He's got the money, the desire, the airplane and 12 years of executive experience. A former member of both parties, he sports both conservative and liberal credentials. He's close to Wall Street, a fiscal conservative, but he's also pro-choice, pro-immigration rights and a leading advocate of gun control. He gets mainly high marks as mayor, with the exception of his "stop and frisk" policy.
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And he got a nice boost this week with the quasi-endorsement of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who urged Bloomberg to get into the race with this tweet: "This is Bloomberg's last chance. You never know until your hat is in the ring! Events change everything, especially during elections."
For Bloomberg, the big problem is: It's a logistical nightmare for any independent candidate to get on the ballot in all 50 states. It would cost over a billion dollars. And it would all have to be worked out by March 1, perhaps even before we know who the Democratic and Republican nominees will be.
That's a tough job, but not impossible. After all, Ross Perot managed to pull it off in 1992 – and he ended up with 19 percent of the popular vote (but zero electoral votes). But, no doubt about it, the deck is stacked in favor of the two major parties. So far, all those who've run as independents – Teddy Roosevelt, 1912; John Anderson, 1980; Ross Perot, 1992 – have achieved little more than to facilitate or determine the election of someone else. Same story in 2000 for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.
Even before making a decision, however, Bloomberg has already achieved what is probably his primary goal: He has everybody talking about him again, and speculating on whether or not he could win or, more likely, which nominee, Democrat or Republican, he'd hurt the most. No doubt about that. As a moderate, he'd draw more votes from Sanders and thereby help Trump or Cruz win the grand prize.
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But, first, Bloomberg has to stop playing Hamlet and step up to the plate. After all, we've seen this movie before, when he teased about running for president in 2008, and again in 2012 – and decided not to run, with good reason. As he explained to New York magazine in September 2013: "I am 100 percent convinced that you cannot in this country win an election unless you are the nominee of one of the two major parties. The second thing I am convinced of is that I could not get through the primary process with either party."
So why should we pay any attention to him this time around? Until Bloomberg actually hires a team, puts his money on the line and makes an announcement, there's no reason we should take him seriously. It was only last October that he told CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin: "I'm not going to run for president, period. … No way, no how. … It's just impossible. … No is the answer. Plain and simple." That was the right answer, then. And it's the right answer, now. No need for Sanders, Clinton, Trump or Cruz to worry about Bloomberg.