vision 2020

Late-Entry Third-Party Threats Afflict Democrats

Here we go again, with talk of a Bloomberg presidential run — and others. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Hudson River Park

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but just as the Democratic presidential nominating contest gets close to its voting phase, we are seeing a revival of shadowy threats of new “centrist outsider” candidacies. One is very familiar, per CNBC:

Mike Bloomberg might end up running for president, after all.

Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, has indicated to associates in recent weeks that Joe Biden’s recent struggles against Sen. Elizabeth Warren are making him rethink his decision to stay out of the 2020 Democratic primary. That’s according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversations were deemed private.

Bloomberg has signaled he’s “still looking at” running for president, but people close him say that the only way he could even go down that path is if Biden’s fortunes suffer so much that he drops out before or during the early stages of the primary. Bloomberg could then enter the race as one of the rare moderates with enough name recognition and campaign funding to make a run. Forbes estimates his net worth at $51 billion, and he was planning to spend over $100 million on a campaign for president if he ran.

Another comes from the opposite coast, per the Washington Post:

Bob Iger keeps saying he’s not interested in running for president. At least, not anymore.

But there’s still a small but influential push in Hollywood to get the Disney CEO to change his mind, according to two entertainment executives. 

They see him as a successful — and likable — businessman who could actually take on President Trump. And be a more appealing alternative than some of the far-left populists now dominating the Democratic primary — especially as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), starts leading in some polls.

Leading this “push,” says the Post, is none other than Oprah Winfrey, herself once the object of Candidate of National Salvation talk. And here’s the kernel of sentiment that seems to be driving both the Bloomberg and Iger speculation:

“Democrats are a train wreck,” the [senior television] executive said. “The second Warren goes up in the polls — no one in corporate America will vote for her.”

And when you’ve lost “corporate America,” you’ve lost America, right?

You don’t have to have insider access or psychic abilities to suspect that beneath all the expressed boardroom fear of Warren losing to Trump is the deeper fear of Warren beating Trump and implementing her agenda. A wealth tax, aggressive antitrust enforcement, worker representation on corporate boards, and far more … Four more years of Trump may be preferable to some of these alleged Trump-haters. What is unclear is whether the new-candidate talk is legitimate, or simply an indirect way for those who oppose Elizabeth Warren to buck up Biden before it’s too late.

One thing is clear, though: It really is too late for a new candidate, however well financed, to jump into the Democratic nomination fight. Tom Steyer is as rich as any of these people, and waited until July of 2019 to launch his own candidacy. As his performance at the October 15 debate showed after he spent $47 million to buy his way onto the stage, the rich outsider “lane” in the 2020 Democratic primaries is narrow, already filled, and going nowhere. Unless Joe Biden drops out of the race tomorrow, and somehow Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar or Kamala Harris doesn’t instantly soak up his support, Bob Iger is not going to be the Democratic presidential nominee, period. So the better way to understand this talk is as a trial balloon for an independent general-election candidacy of the sort that Bloomberg contemplated in 2016 and Howard Schultz considered earlier this year.

With enough money and enough overheated talk about saving America from the Scylla of Trumpism and the Charybdis of socialism, there’s plenty of time for a general-election indie bid to develop. Perhaps it can even become part of some new international centrist push, with Trump and Boris Johnson in one unacceptable camp and Warren and Jeremy Corbyn in the other.

If this kind of buzz does develop, it could help Biden (or whoever the centrist Democratic champion turns out to be) by reviving Democrat terror about third- or fourth-party threats to what is otherwise an invincible advantage over Trump, reflecting one of the theories about how Hillary Clinton managed to lose in 2016. As fate would have it, HRC herself is fanning those very flames, reports Axios:

Hillary Clinton said on David Plouffe’s podcast “Campaign HQ” this week that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is Russia’s “favorite” 2020 candidate and said the country could be “grooming” her to become a third-party candidate.

“I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians …”

She told Plouffe that Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee for president in 2012 and 2016, is a “Russian asset — I mean, totally.”

Yikes. Let’s hope for Clinton’s sake that Stein is enough of a public figure to keep her from successfully suing HRC for slander. But conspiracy theories aside, an indie or third-party candidacy that lifts an unpopular Trump to the presidency once again is a specter that will haunt Democrats all the way until November of 2020. The immediate question is whether that nightmare will have a tangible effect on their own choice of candidates beginning in Iowa in early February.

Late-Entry Third-Party Threats Haunt Democrats