Bloomberg is still obsessed with the presidency. One evening this winter, he sat down to dinner at the Crosby Street Hotel with several of his View contributors. Over a glass of red wine and a hamburger, he rehearsed his well-known criticism of Obama. At one point, a person who was there told me, Bloomberg said that the president “needs to be more like LBJ, and reach out.”
Bloomberg’s relations with the White House have been strained ever since that fateful golf game on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 2010, after which Rupert Murdoch said in the press that Bloomberg told him, “I never met in my life such an arrogant man.” Last month, it was reported that Bloomberg went to the White House for a private lunch with the president, which both sides described, in classic Washingtonese, as “productive.”
In private, friends note that the mayor’s girlfriend, Diana Taylor, expresses the mayor’s unvarnished view of the president. “She parrots everything Mike says,” notes someone who often socializes with them. Before the 2008 election, Taylor got into an argument with Sheekey’s wife, Robin, who was an Obama supporter. “Diana was repeating what Mike would say about Obama, except it was louder,” the person recalled. “How can you be so stupid to be for someone like Obama?” Taylor asked her.
As this fall’s presidential campaign ratchets up, Bloomberg’s still bothered by the quality of the debate, recoiling at Obama’s attacks on Wall Street and Mitt Romney’s near-religious conviction not to countenance any tax increases. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bloomberg castigated both sides for failing to reach a sensible fiscal deal. “Mike Bloomberg has every right to look at what he’s accomplished and say to himself, ‘I’m more qualified to be president than any of these guys,’ ” a Bloomberg intimate told me. “Because he is: He’s run a bigger business than Mitt Romney. And he’s been a public official longer than Barack Obama.”
Both candidates are seeking his endorsement. On May 1, Romney had breakfast with Bloomberg at his foundation. A few days before, the mayor was invited to play golf with Joe Biden and Leon Panetta. Clearly, Bloomberg likes to be courted. An article in the Times described him as a “reluctant endorser,” which will only increase his sway over the competing campaigns.
This frustration with the state of presidential politics is partly the fuel that is powering the mayor’s ambitions as he looks to life beyond City Hall, even though he might not see it in these terms. In many ways, his decision to stay out of the race could be the right decision for a man who has long considered himself “not a politician.” He’s blunt, impatient, and lacking in the emotional dexterity that the job often requires, although he’s grown more comfortable in the role after more than a decade of dealing with the daily indignities of the office.
Bloomberg has increasingly been inserting himself into national debates—from Planned Parenthood to Stand Your Ground—at the moment when there’s maximum political capital up for grabs. And he’s logging miles, taking the Bloomberg brand global. In March, he landed in Singapore to announce that the city-state had joined his international climate-change initiative. This summer, he’ll be in Rio for the next meeting of the C40 Climate Leadership Group. Every time he touches down in a new place, he’s building out an already gilded Rolodex with a loyal network of international politicians whom he can enlist at key moments. “Look at Obama as he goes around the nuclear summit. His posture is sort of that of a guy making entreaties rather than that of an established global leader,” says a senior Bloomberg adviser. “And you look at the way Mike has operated: He’s used mayors around the world and his network of philanthropy to produce what I would say are the beginnings of an international infrastructure that can promote a level of change that is hard to fathom.”
But there’s another, less optimistic view: Bloomberg’s brand of sober centrism is certainly a sensible, even enlightened governing philosophy. But data-driven pragmatism doesn’t engage partisan emotions. As he builds his empire, one cautionary data point can be found in the clout of his editorial page: Though it has received a Pulitzer Prize nomination, View has not had the impact Bloomberg might have hoped for it. “It turns out he doesn’t have a lot of opinions,” says a friend. “On things he cares about, he has really strong opinions: smoking, traffic, guns, immigration, housing. But other than that, he doesn’t have a lot of passion.”
So far, one of the few editorials that have broken through into the wider media conversation was View’s March 14 response to Greg Smith’s remarkable resignation letter published in the Times. “Apparently, when Greg Smith arrived at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. almost twelve years ago, the legendary investment firm was something like the Make-a-Wish Foundation—existing only to bring light and peace and happiness to the world,” the editors wrote.