22 June 2007

The Bloomberg boomlet

If Michael Bloomberg runs for President, what will the effect be?

Bloomberg has suggested that he will not decide whether or not to run until after both major parties have chosen their candidates, and then will run only if one or both candidates appear "weak"
(probably meaning, if they seem too far from the political center). In fact, I think a Bloomberg candidacy would be harmful to the country unless both major parties have nominated extremist candidates.

Here's how I see the basics of a "normal" 2008 race with only two significant candidates. Whichever candidate is closer to the political center will win. Specifically, if the Republicans nominate Rudy Giuliani -- tough on defense against Islamic imperialism but pro-freedom on most social issues (other than gun rights) -- then he will defeat pretty much any Democrat currently on offer. If the Republicans nominate the kind of hard-line "social conservative" that the fundamentalist nutjobs are pining for, that candidate will lose to the Democrat, unless the Democrat is much further to the left than the three major Democratic hopefuls now stand. Either way, the message to both of the parties will be clear: moving to the center wins, moving to the fringe and pandering to the "base" (far-right or far-left, depending on the party) loses.

Bloomberg presents himself as a centrist outsider, an alternative to the bickering, business-as-usual major parties in thrall to their respective hard-line "bases". This is Ross Perot territory, and the available polls (for whatever they're worth almost 17 months before the election) show Bloomberg likely getting somewhere in the range of 7% to 15% of the vote, similar to what Perot got. This is easily enough to "flip" several close states from one column to the other in the Electoral College, and thus change the outcome of the election. The question is, which side would he take more votes from?

It's generally recognized that a far-right third candidate hurts the Republican, while a far-left third candidate hurts the Democrat. This is because no liberal would ever vote for a far-right third candidate, while some conservatives would, so that the far-right candidate splits conservative voters while leaving liberals united behind the Democrat (there is also pressure on the Republican to shift further right to win back conservatives from the far-right candidate, thus alienating some centrist voters). A far-left third candidate, of course, creates the mirror image of this effect, dividing liberals while leaving conservatives united.

Logically, therefore, a centrist third candidate will hurt whichever of the two major candidates is closer to the center. Think about it. If the Republicans nominate Giuliani, he will likely win a "normal" two-candidate race by appealing to centrist and even moderate-left voters who find his socially-liberal views acceptable and fear that the Democrat will be weak on defense. But if Bloomberg is in the race, many of these voters who have misgivings about voting for a Republican will opt for him instead -- throwing the victory in the race to the Democrat. Conversely, if the Republicans nominate a "social conservative", the Democrat gains the advantage in a two-candidate race by appealing to centrists who dread another four years of Christian Right dominance of the government and the erosion of personal freedom that implies -- but again, if Bloomberg is available, many such voters would opt for him instead of the Democrat, throwing the race to the Republican.

Some are already arguing that such fears are overblown and that as the actual election day approaches, Bloomberg's support will dwindle to Nader-like levels. This strikes me as unlikely. Nader was not a centrist but a representative of one of the extremes (in his case, the extreme left), and he had nothing like the money available to Bloomberg. In any case, the 2000 race was so close that even Nader's tiny share of the popular vote may have affected the outcome. The 2008 race might be very close too -- we just don't know yet.

By robbing the more centrist major candidate of the victory, Bloomberg could actually strengthen radical partisanship and muddy the message the election could otherwise have sent.

There is only one situation in which a Bloomberg candidacy could be beneficial -- if both parties cave to their bases, and give us a race with a Christian Right "social conservative" against a man of the radical internationalist left. In that case, the country's best hope would be that longest of long shots -- that Bloomberg would actually win.



Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

What exactly is a "radical internationalist left"? Can you provide an example?

Also, I think that many would agree that Nader was more of a Democrat than a centerist. I am not sure that you could call him "extreme" left, though. Hmm...

24 June, 2007 04:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

By internationalism in this context I mean the stance that American national sovereignty should be compromised by submission to the dictates of various international institutions such as the UN. I was simply using this as an example of a position unpopular with most voters which is more likely to be found on the left than the right. For example, a Democratic Presidential candidate, to be viable, would have to be able to reassure voters that he (or she) would not give the UN a veto over American military action which was vital to the national interest. An example of a "man [or woman] of the radical internationalist left" would be a candidate who could not honestly give such an assurance.

24 June, 2007 06:09  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

You mean like the way the UN wanted to use weapons inspectors in Iraq, and the president of the United States thought it was a better idea to give trillions of dollars to contractors like Haliiburton and then call it the war in Iraq? You'rew losing me in the fine print. You sound kind of like John Bolton.

26 June, 2007 00:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

If American leaders make bad decisions, the solution is for Americans to elect better leaders, not to hand over American sovereignty to international organizations -- which are hopelessly corrupt and not accountable to anyone.

26 June, 2007 06:00  

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