Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has been packing heat — verbally that is — against Virginia’s gun laws for years. It’s proved an expensive, fruitless lesson. But he might soon be praising a portion of the Virginia code that suits his other passion.
Bloomberg wants to be president. He publicly discussed running as an independent in 2008 and again in 2012. Now Team Bloomberg is talking about it once more.
Bloomberg may be willing to ante up a billion dollars, if necessary, for an independent run in 2016 should the Republicans and Democrats nominate flawed candidates. What does flawed mean? Well, a decision was promised by early March.
The trial balloon seemed a recycled version of his 2008 and 2012 non-runs. His aides claim this time is different.
So we went looking for a reason why it could be.
History provides no answers.
Since Republican presidential candidates began contesting Democratic standard-bearers in 1856, one or the other has always won the White House. Third-party or independent candidates have been spoilers, at best.
Democrats blame Ralph Nader for costing former vice president Al Gore (D) Florida’s electoral votes and the presidency in 2000. Republicans blame billionaire H. Russ Perot’s third-party run for taking votes from President George H.W. Bush when Democrat Bill Clinton was elected in 1992.
Bloomberg’s advisers say, as they always have, that he will not run if he would be seen as a spoiler. How else could he be viewed in early March? Most Americans will lack any substantial basis to assess Bloomberg’s White House qualifications. It will take several months of campaigning before a sufficient number of voters could make an informed judgment on his fitness, personally and policy wise, for the job.
Doesn’t he want the public to be part of his decision-making process? A decision in March will be dictated by the polls, specifically how Bloomberg and the other candidates fare in hypothetical polling match-ups. They will be the same as in previous years.
A more likely reason why this time might really be different is tucked away in Virginia election law.
According to Bloomberg’s aides, they have been researching the laws around country for getting on the presidential ballot. Although the presidency is a national office, there is no uniform national law for getting on the ballot except for Supreme Court decisions subjecting state election statutes to constitutional scrutiny.
Because Bloomberg’s aides have studied these laws, presumably they know that inside Virginia ballot access rules is a special benefit for billionaires like Bloomberg.
Given his wealth, he could build an organization to quickly qualify for the ballot in Virginia and other states. But Virginia and some other states also allow Bloomberg to remove his name from the official ballot lineup before they print ballots for absentee voters and program candidate names into electronic voting machines.
Only a multi-billionaire such as Bloomberg could spend millions to get on every state ballot — and then decide not to run. A run-of-the-mill independent candidate — say, former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) — couldn’t raise the money without agreeing to run.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, the rich are different.
But it doesn’t prevent them from being politically amateurish.
The 2016 presidential cycle is unpredictable. Donald Trump as the GOP nominee? This defies political logic. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) edging former secretary of state Hillary Clinton? Even more unthinkable. An email scandal dogging Clinton for almost a year with no end in sight? That’s amazing. Ted Cruz, the most despised senator in Washington, a threat for White House? Institutionally unprecedented. The GOP establishment unable to find a credible candidate? This has never happened before.
The point being: While, historically, the major party nominees are basically known by the middle of March, this year could be the exception.
If Bloomberg is serious about being considered for president, he will gather signatures in Virginia and elsewhere, watch how the GOP and Democratic nomination battles progress, and travel the country making the case for his vision for America.
There is no need to set an arbitrary March deadline.
His checkbook will always be able to buy him a seat at the table.
Norman Leahy is an editor of bearingdrift.com and producer of the Score radio show. Paul Goldman is a former senior adviser to governors Doug Wilder and Mark Warner.