Editor’s Note: Arick Wierson is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and former Senior Media Adviser to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He currently advises political and corporate clients in the United States, Africa and Latin America. You can follow him on Twitter @ArickWierson. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and billionaire founder of the media and data behemoth, Bloomberg, LP, several times has seriously contemplated running for president of the United States. In 2008 and again in 2016, Bloomberg conducted polls, hired consultants and was willing to commit up to $1 billion of his personal fortune to a presidential bid.
And I would know – I worked for Bloomberg on his first campaign for mayor in 2001 and later served as a senior media adviser to him during his first two terms in office.
So far Bloomberg has coyly dismissed any notions of his contemplating a run in 2020. But judging by the way the presidential political landscape is shaping up, a real opportunity may present itself for a centrist, independent candidate.
And should such a lane open up, there is only one person who has the requisite gravitas, political chops and ability to self-fund a presidential campaign – and that’s Bloomberg.
In 2008, Bloomberg’s flirtation with a presidential run was the direct result of his edging toward what appeared to be the end of his time as mayor. (He later managed to overturn the local term-limit law, enabling to run and win a third term.)
In 2016, he was even more serious. The former mayor brought on scores of advisers and campaign staff, conducted massive amounts of polling in nearly two dozen states, opened campaign offices in Texas and North Carolina and had even shot several television ads. He was gravely concerned about what an America led by a President Bernie Sanders, or even more alarmingly – a President Donald Trump or President Ted Cruz – would mean for the environment, the economy, immigration policy and America’s role in foreign affairs.
However, after parsing the data culled from his massive polling operation, Bloomberg concluded in an op-ed titled, “The Risk I Will Not Take,” that his role in the 2016 race would likely be reduced to preventing either of the major party candidates from achieving the necessary 270 electoral college votes to win. He was convinced that were he to run, he would go down in history as an unwitting accessory to putting Trump or Cruz in office by spoiling the election and throwing the fate of the country to the GOP-led House of Representatives.
As it turns out, Trump didn’t need the House to make him President. But in the 15 months since he took office, the political landscape has once again shifted dramatically. The headline-grabbing chaos surrounding the personnel at the White House, the Twitter tirades and attacks on the media, the multiple Russian election–meddling inquiries and the threat of a trade war with China have all contributed to a potential “Blue Wave” in the 2018 midterm elections.
If Democrats are successful in taking back the House in 2018, it’s almost certain that party leadership will permit impeachment hearings of the President to get underway. This will invigorate the Democratic faithful but infuriate Trump’s base and likely further unhinge the President.
A severely hobbled Trump may then have to face the prospect of a primary challenge from within the GOP, as well as from a bevy of Democratic hopefuls jumping over one another in an effort to take jabs at the incumbent. For a majority of Americans, however, fatigue from the extreme polarization will really begin to set in.
“While Mike Bloomberg isn’t a likely candidate, a weak incumbent and a highly politicized, polarized opposition certainly opens the path for an independent centrist to actually reflect the views of most voters and win their support,” Bradley Tusk, the former campaign manager of Bloomberg’s third mayoral campaign in 2009, told me.
“That could be a combination of current moderate Republicans and Democrats, maybe even as a fusion ticket,” added Tusk, who was also heavily involved in Bloomberg’s abandoned 2016 presidential effort. “Or it could be someone from the private sector. But the lane could exist.”
Kwame Jackson, the runner-up on NBC’s first season of “The Apprentice” and an early critic of Trump, told me that he thinks that “Michael Bloomberg’s entry into the 2020 Presidential race would be a great centrist ballast for the truly mercurial political whims of Donald Trump. Bloomberg is widely admired for his intellect, business acumen, consensus building, as well as his charity – not to mention a true fortune that humbles Trump. He would be a compelling candidate for many people who are disgusted by Donald Trump and feel disappointed with the delivery of Democrats.”
And there’s the emergence of Generation Z as an independently minded political force, which will add several million more young people to the voter registry by 2020. They could play a role in opening up a centrist lane in the middle of the political divide.
Generation Z experts David and Jonah Stillman have conducted extensive polling that indicates that such voters will be much less beholden to the traditional political construct of Republicans vs. Democrats.
“In fact, we suspect that this will be the most active yet politically independent voting block in modern American history,” Stillman told me. The fact that Bloomberg has been an early and outspoken critic of America’s gun policies will only further enhance his station with these young political activists.
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On Sunday, Bloomberg appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” to talk about the environment and again face questions about whether he will run for president. The former mayor (in a fairly unconvincing fashion) dismissed any notion that he is seriously thinking about running for president in 2020, saying the chances were “not very high,” but not zero.
In doing so, he left the door open just enough so that he could easily pry it back without much effort should he sense an opening a year and a half from now.
The 2018 midterms will potentially upend the current political landscape in more ways than one, creating an avenue for a new kind of centrist presidential ticket to emerge. Whether that’s a fusion ticket, as Tusk has suggested, or Bloomberg himself, its too early to say. But it’s something all Americans should keep their eye on.