Could Bloomberg take on Trump?

Story highlights

  • Paul Waldman: Rupert Murdoch tweeted that Bloomberg should run in 2016. But Bloomberg is exception that proves a rule
  • He says business leaders don't make good political leaders. Presidents need political acumen, policy ideas. Trump has neither

Paul Waldman is a senior writer with the American Prospect, a left-leaning magazine, and a blogger for the Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The American people, as far as Rupert Murdoch is concerned, are rallying behind the wrong billionaire. "With Trump becoming very serious candidate, it's time for next billionaire candidate, Mike Bloomberg to step into ring," Murdoch tweeted over the weekend. "Greatest mayor."

Whatever you think of that assessment, it may not be surprising that a media mogul like Murdoch would look at the Republican field and ask himself, "Are there any other billionaires that might be better than Donald Trump? Hmm..."
Paul Waldman
If it was only super-wealthy businessmen who believed that the best qualification for becoming president is to be a super-wealthy businessman, then it wouldn't do much harm. But this is something we hear all the time, and not just in presidential races: that what we need to clean up Washington is more people who aren't politicians and are thus untainted by the capital's corrupt and inefficient ways. What that place really needs is someone who'll run it like a business.
    Though he has his defenders and detractors, Michael Bloomberg was a pretty successful mayor of New York. But he's the exception that proves the rule. How many other businessmen-turned-politicians can you name who delivered on their promise to bring the efficiency and clear thinking of the business world to government, implementing sweeping reforms that benefited all their constituents. Any?
    On the other hand, there are plenty who either failed as candidates or proved underwhelming or even disastrous in the offices to which they were elected.
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    If a businessman-politician can succeed anywhere, it's likely to be in city government, as Bloomberg did. It's sometimes said that there's no Democratic or Republican way to fix a pothole, and in many cities -- including New York -- there's only one party to speak of anyway.
    That doesn't mean that urban politics aren't a swirl of competing interests, but it does mean that those interests don't fall along the same value-laden partisan lines that national politics does. And there are so many practical tasks to be accomplished on the city level, many of which do suffer from simple inefficiency and sclerotic systems, that an effective manager can have a large impact.
    But Washington is a whole other matter. What ails the federal government is not a lack of can-do American spirit, and its problems don't simply need a better manager in order to be solved. In fact, because of fundamental partisan differences, we don't even agree on what the problems are.
    The fantasy that a no-nonsense businessman with no experience in politics can sweep aside the conflicts that put Democrats and Republicans at odds is one that never seems to die, no matter how ridiculous it is on its face. Indeed, this idea lies at the heart of Donald Trump's appeal. He tells people that the politicians are stupid, and once he gets to Washington and starts knocking heads, they'll all get in line.
    You may have noticed that when Trump is interviewed, whenever the journalist begins asking specific questions -- How will you get a bill to do this or that passed through Congress? What about these existing laws, or that organized interest group? -- Trump gets more and more vague in his answer. He'll get things done because he knows how to get things done! How? By getting things done, that's how!
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    Granted, Trump is a buffoon who seems to neither know nor care about the details of public policy. But that's what a president does -- he shapes, to the best of his ability, the details of public policy. And in an era of intense partisanship, he has to figure out how to do it when faced with an opposition that will work to stop him at every turn. To do that successfully requires a great deal of experience and political acumen, something the businessman-turned-politician lacks almost by definition.
    If you listen to what Trump's supporters are saying, it's plain that with the exception of immigration, they're not getting behind Trump because of his positions on particular issues. They're drawn to his bombast, his self-confidence, his forthrightness, and his insistence that any problem government confronts has a solution that's quick and easy if only you have the will to put it into action.
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    Despite his frequent condemnations of all politicians as "losers" and "idiots," Trump tells a story that is a reassuring one. It says: The problems of health care or economic inequality or terrorism or immigration are all manageable. The reason those problems aren't solved to everyone's satisfaction isn't that they're inherently complex, or that there are immutable value conflicts that underpin them, or that some problems are hard to solve without creating two others. According to Trump's story, it's that the right guy isn't in charge, and once we find and elevate him, there will be nothing we can't do.
    The truth is less satisfying and less romantic. Democracy is inherently messy and slow; change usually creates winners and losers; presidents can't just decide to "lead" and accomplish whatever they want through the force of their will.
    Even the candidate you most admire will manage to achieve only some of what he or she promises; and the candidate who says he'll change the way they do business in Washington will fail to do so, no matter how skilled a politician he or she is. Every presidency reminds us of these things, yet every four years people are ready to be told that it will all be different if we elect someone with no political experience.