Bloomberg has frequently denied any interest in seeking the presidency. "I'm not going to run for president, period," he said
on national television in 2010. "End of story."
But that wasn't the end of the story. Just recently, Bloomberg commissioned a secret poll
to find out if he'd be a viable candidate in 2016. Equally important, the fact the "secret" survey was taken was widely leaked and quickly became national news, fueling another round of speculation that Bloomberg may be thinking about jumping into the race.
After more than a decade of covering, interviewing and occasionally dining with Bloomberg, I'd say his denials of interest in the presidency, no matter how firm and definitive, should be taken with a huge grain of salt. I once saw Bloomberg and one of his top political aides, Kevin Sheekey, at a press conference in front of the West Wing shortly after the mayor met with President Obama to talk about education policy. When the press conference was over, you could see both men pause and look at the building covetously, almost hungrily.
And why not? Bloomberg enjoyed a spectacularly good run governing a city with more population than 40 of the 50 states. Like anybody else in the business of politics, it's natural for him to consider trying to climb to the pinnacle of the profession and become the most powerful man in the world.
Bloomberg even has the makings of a Cabinet in waiting in the form of top deputies who enjoy a national reputation: his former housing chief Shaun Donovan, who went on to run the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and is now White House director of the Office of Management and Budget; his former health commissioner, Dr. Tom Frieden, currently serves as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, was rumored to be on the short list to become secretary of homeland security or FBI director.
Bloomberg's political brain trust includes one deputy mayor, Stephen Goldsmith, who was mayor of Indianapolis, and another, Howard Wolfson, who served as Hillary Clinton's communications director during the grueling 2008 primary campaign against Obama. They, along with Sheekey and Bill Cunningham, a former aide to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have a wealth of national experience.
But that's getting ahead of the game. To get to the Oval Office requires a candidate willing to make a 50-state run, and as recently as 2014, Bloomberg begged off yet again: "No is the answer. Plain and simple," he said on the "Today" show. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to make a better world for myself, for my kids, for my grandchildren."
So why the "secret" poll?
I'd say the obvious answer is the right one: Bloomberg has long been interested in the presidency, and will run if he sees any reasonable chance of making it happen.
Emphasis on "reasonable chance." Bloomberg has never been a party man -- a former Democrat, he was first elected mayor as a Republican but later changed his enrollment to nonaffiliated -- making it nearly impossible to mount a viable 50-state campaign in a system built and controlled by local and national party organizations.
"I am 100% convinced that you cannot in this country win an election unless you are the nominee of one of the two major parties," Bloomberg told New York Magazine
in 2013. "The second thing I am convinced of is that I could not get through the primary process with either party."
He's right. The last time we elected a president who wasn't a Democrat or a Republican was in 1848, when Zachary Taylor won on the Whig Party line; since then, third-party candidates have waged intriguing but futile quests for the White House. The most successful of these efforts came in 1912, when Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt lost with 29% of the vote -- and in that case, Roosevelt had already served a term as president, and only launched the National Progressive Party (also known as the Bull Moose Party) because Republican insiders denied him the GOP nomination.
In 2016, when a fed-up public appears ready to make unconventional choices -- witness the rise of Donald Trump and "Democratic socialist" Bernie Sanders -- some are wondering whether the time is ripe for Bloomberg to step in.
Wall Street leaders are said to be urging
a run, and some recent leaks spell out a not entirely crazy scenario
for Bloomberg, in which Republicans self-destruct through infighting and Democrats settle on Clinton after Sanders has forced her to tack to the left on a number of issues, creating a path for Bloomberg to run as a competent, sensible centrist.
As the speculation continues, there's a firm deadline approaching: the deadline to file paperwork to appear on the ballot in many states is March 1. If Bloomberg's polling and the course of the Republican and Democratic races all line up, there's a slim chance that we'll see a candidacy from the man a wisecracking Piers Morgan once dubbed
"the greatest president that America never had."