The morning before John McCain’s sprightly turn on Saturday Night Live on May 17, the de facto GOP presidential nominee had breakfast at Sarabeth’s on Central Park South with Michael Bloomberg and his girlfriend, Diana Taylor. This much you may have read in the Post, which reported that the trio consumed scrambled eggs and coffee and left a 20 percent tip. (The tab was picked up by the McCain campaign—which is akin in its degree of absurdity to a homeless guy’s stuffing a $5 bill into Warren Buffett’s pocket.) A McCain spokesman quoted by the Post added that “discussing a vice-presidential slot for Bloomberg was not on the agenda.” But a source close to the mayor informs me that the topic of McCain’s V.P. search was very much on the menu. One of the participants, in fact, came away from the conversation under the distinct impression that Bloomberg is on McCain’s short list.
Speculation about the possibility of Mike for veep is nothing new, of course. It’s been bubbling ever since late February, when the mayor decided, once and for all, not to launch an independent bid for the White House. Yet, by and large, the ruminations have revolved not around Bloomberg’s being McCain’s running mate but Barack Obama’s. The hopemonger has courted the mayor, not only orchestrating a breakfast op of his own but running an important economic speech past Bloomberg before he delivered it. And Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey, as is his wont, has been stoking the flames like some kind of meth-addled pyromaniac. Moreover, according to a friend of mine who witnessed the exchange, a non-Sheekey member of Bloomberg’s inner circle recently told a prominent CEO in the city that Bloomberg’s and Obama’s people held a meeting in April to discuss the former’s suitability to being the latter’s No. 2.
In a presidential year in which the unprecedented has become the commonplace, and in which the political currents swirling around the race keep carrying us into, as the cliché has it, uncharted waters, maybe it was inevitable that the veepstakes would yield a circumstance this bizarre: the presumptive nominees of both parties seriously mooting the concept of teaming up with the same dude. And not just any dude, mind you, but the Democrat turned Republican turned Independent, divorced, Jewish billionaire mayor of our glorious metropolis. The mind doth fairly reel at the notion—and even more so at the fact that it might actually make sense for either of them.
No, I haven’t been smoking anything, but I can see why you might be wondering. The standard calculation around selecting the Tonto for a presidential ticket boils down to narrow electoral math: Who would most enhance the prospects of carrying a crucial state the nominee might otherwise not win? But Bloomberg would do nothing to alter the outcome in New York for Obama or McCain; the blueness of the state on November 4 is a lead-pipe cinch. And, despite his recent flashes of tetchiness toward anyone who annoys him, Bloomberg has inclinations toward moderation and civility that make him an improbable attack dog—the running mate’s traditional role.
So the case for Bloomberg requires you to stretch your mind a bit. But just a bit. It begins with the eminently reasonable assumption that the economy will be the central issue in the fall campaign—an issue neither Obama nor McCain has a solid handle on. Bloomberg, with his entrepreneurial background and his record of financial stewardship of Gotham, would be a boon to either runner in this department, but maybe especially to McCain, whose economic anti-cluefulness is glaring. “The GOP is losing on the economy by 10 to 15 points,” says Doug Schoen, who served as Bloomberg’s pollster in his mayoral runs. “With Mike on the ticket, that gap would quickly, dramatically close.”
Schoen argues that Bloomberg would help McCain in numerous other ways, too. He would bolster McCain in critical swing states such as Florida, New Jersey (a state the Republicans have hopes of putting into play), and Pennsylvania—and also in California, where the McCain–Bloomberg–Arnold Schwarzenegger troika might compel Obama to spend time and money in a state that should be a gimme. He would enhance McCain’s image as a moderate, a maverick, and provide him with a riposte to the charge that he’s a clone of George W. Bush. (Is there any human being on Earth less like Dick Cheney than Bloomberg?) And if the mayor were willing to plow some of his fortune into the race—assuming election law allows it—he would let McCain close or, if he were feeling generous, eradicate completely the vast disparity between the two sides when it comes to moola.