Mike Bloomberg has indeed polled his chances as a third-party presidential candidate in a race against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — and the numbers, at least as of December, showed a possibility that he’d win. But that’s not the only combination of major-party nominees that might finally propel the former mayor into a national campaign.
Bloomberg tested his name against other combinations of major-party nominees, too — and the polling suggests he could also win in a matchup with Clinton and Ted Cruz. Or in a Bernie Sanders–Trump field. Or against Sanders and Cruz.
The billionaire former mayor has flirted with a presidential candidacy before, coming closest to a run in 2008. The theory then was that Bloomberg would pick up votes from the rational, less-partisan middle of the ideological spectrum. But Democratic nominee Barack Obama — besides being a rivetingly hopeful, historic figure — was not a radical liberal, and Republican nominee John McCain was never a hard-core right-winger. So Bloomberg, unable to see a realistic center path to victory, stayed on the White House sidelines, with a third term in City Hall as the consolation prize.
The theory this time appears to largely be the same — but the potential for a highly polarized field is greater. Bloomberg’s odds are best if the GOP picks the demagogic Trump, but the deeply conservative Cruz could also repel Republican moderates and provide an electoral window. And Bloomberg could appeal to Democrats weary of the Clintons.
Still, in a campaign dominated so far by populism and nativism, a divorced Jewish plutocrat would face a tough fight to piece together enough votes. The current chatter is only coming out of Bloombergworld — no one, as far as I know, has done independent public polling with the former mayor’s name among the choices.
If Bloomberg does somehow run, there are logistical hurdles, including ballot access hassles — though spending, say, $2 billion on a campaign could solve plenty of problems. The better reasons to think this will turn out to be another tease include the media mogul’s past reluctance to run and his aversion to losing. Three years ago, when he was finishing up as mayor, Bloomberg told me he believed it was impossible for a third-party candidate to win the presidency. If he had been presented with the current scenarios back in 2008, though, Bloomberg’s decision eight years ago would very likely have been different.