Third party Bloomberg candidacy guarantees conservative President
Last Friday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated that he is considering a third-party run for President, particularly if the race is between Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) or businessman Donald Trump. His intentions are noble: he believes that those candidates are too ideological, and he fears the polarizing impact that they might have on America’s already frayed political landscape. But there is no path to victory for Michael Bloomberg. Instead, running as a third party candidate will ensure a President Trump.
I get it. He prides himself on the pragmatic, objective leadership that only comes when you shed party labels. He was a Democrat, and then a Republican, and then a nothing, and he likes being a nothing the best. He considers himself a centrist, and he thinks centrists can actually govern. He thinks the only person that can unite the country is someone who can straddle the middle.
He might be right. But he won’t win. The data he’s looking at is tempting: 60 percent of Americans want a third party, and a record 43 percent of voters are registered as independents, more than are registered for either major party. While there’s an appetite for a third-party candidate, that’s simply not our political system. In our winner-take-all system, there’s really only room for two competitive candidates. In presidential elections especially, a third-party candidate simply can’t win because they need to earn 270 votes in the electoral college out of 538 total.
There are two possible scenarios in a three-way presidential election. First, all three candidates preform relatively evenly. This is the best Bloomberg can hope to perform. In this case, they will split up the electoral college, and nobody will get to 270. Then, the House of Representatives gets to decide who the president is. It is remotely possible that the Republican House would prefer Bloomberg to Trump, but this would be unlikely. More likely, Republicans will stick with their party, even if it has become the party of Trump.
The more likely scenario is that Bloomberg gets 10 to 15 percent of the vote. The most successful third party presidential candidate in the past hundred years was Ross Perot in 1992, with 18.6 percent of the vote. That’s not a very promising track record for third parties. Yes, party strength has diminished, but the parties are still very powerful, especially in campaigns. When the Republican and Democratic candidates get the nomination, the whole party, and all its money, volunteers, staff, infrastructure, and data get behind them. Bloomberg would have to build all of this from scratch.
So Bloomberg gets 10 to 15 percent of the vote. The question is which 10 to 15 percent? Bloomberg thinks that he will draw support from moderates in both parties and from independents. However, he will appeal to Democrats more than Republicans. Bloomberg supports many policies that Republicans hate. Perhaps Bloomberg’s most famous policies as New York’s mayor were his public health initiatives, such as banning smoking in restaurants and prohibiting restaurants from selling large sodas. Not many Republicans care for government telling them what they can and cannot do.
Since leaving office, Mayor Bloomberg has focused on Democratic issues like gun control and climate change. If you think a nanny-state loving, gun hating, pro-choice, big government, climate change believer is going to draw many Republican votes, even moderate ones, you’ve probably never met a Republican. Many moderate Democrats, however, will be attracted to Bloomberg over Bernie.
In either case, Bloomberg doesn’t win, but he does split enough attention with the Democrat that the Republican wins. Bernie might be far to the left, but he is not a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. Like Bloomberg, Bernie is an independent with successful experience as mayor. Bernie might not straddle the middle, but then again neither does Bloomberg. Bernie has a reputation for working across the aisle and leading practically, sponsoring more amendments than any other member of Congress. Bloomberg might not like it if someone as ideological as Bernie is on the ticket, but if Bloomberg runs against Bernie and Trump, he will hand Trump the White House.