The decision of Michael Bloomberg against running for president this year is good news for Hillary Clinton but bad news for Israel and the Republicans (not to mention the former mayor himself). Bloomberg himself cited his fear that he’d throw the race to Donald Trump or one of the other Republicans. But Bloomberg would be better than any of the Democrats – including on Israel, which is not the only issue but is one on which the Democrats have emerged, in my view at least, as the markedly less pro-Israel party.
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I’d long hoped that Bloomberg would enter the race. At a book party at his headquarters the other day, I’d showed him my right hand and said, “See this hand – it’s written more editorials urging you to run for president than any newspaper hand in America.” He laughed and said he was aware of that fact. And he offered a deal. “I’ll run for president,” he said, “if you get rid of the electoral college.” I told him I’d get right on it, but His Honor, as we call current and former mayors, didn’t wait, announcing on the Bloomberg opinion page that he would demur.
Bloomberg is to my right on almost every issue, but he is better than any Democrat on Israel. Donald Trump is something of a mystery on Israel; he took a powder on the Jerusalem question and has suggested, bizarrely, he’s neutral in respect of the war between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jewish state. But Trump, in sharp contradistinction to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, has taken the same position on the Iran appeasement that has been taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
No doubt there are many Jewish Republicans who will find it difficult to vote for Trump, even though he has stood at the head of the Israel parade, endorsed, at one point, Netanyahu, and has been reckoned by the Forward to have the “strongest Jewish ties of all GOP candidates.” The billionaire’s pro-Israel credentials have been hurt by his derision of many of the Mexicans crossing illegally into the U.S. and his stated willingness to expel the 11 million undocumented immigrants here.
Bloomberg would be a perfect alternative for those Jewish Republicans who find Trump’s campaign to be off-putting. When during the Gaza war President Barack Obama halted American commercial flights to and from Israel, Bloomberg famously flew to Israel on El Al. The former mayor of New York has been, from my point of view, fabulously articulate in favor of a liberal immigration policy. Even in a losing campaign, Bloomberg would have done a great service by running on the immigration issue alone.
In the event, Bloomberg’s column explaining why he’s not going to run is one of the least convincing statements of political abdication ever offered in America. He complains of the “fever of partisanship” that is, supposedly, afflicting the body politic. Yet he stands down from offering a non-partisan, that is, an independent, candidacy. He claims that he can’t win and fears throwing the election to either Trump or his leading competitor, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
George Washington faced longer odds going up against George III.
In fact it’s not so clear what would happen were the election thrown to the House. There are scenarios in which the House could be unable to decide on a president and the Senate on a vice president – that is, total chaos. This is because in these matters each state gets one vote. But either party could have enough strength, even without a majority, to block the constitutionally mandated quorum. It is conceivable – at least to me – that a bitterly divided House could turn to Bloomberg to avoid a stalemate.
It may be that Hillary Clinton will win a two-person race for the president. The polls seem to favor that prospect. But at this stage of the election in, say, 1980, the New York Times’ most famous political sage, James Reston, was predicting there was no way Ronald Reagan could become president. He thought George H.W. Bush more likely that year, or Gerald Ford. Conceivably, Trump could move in the general election so smartly to the center as to relieve the doubts he has so sowed in the primaries.
No doubt, though, that’ll be difficult for Trump, who has yet to gain the backing of a majority of the party on whose line he wants to seek the White House. A lot can happen in the next few weeks. So as it stands, the only candidate who combines a solid, pro-Israel reputation, a commitment to expanding immigration, and a record of opposing high taxes and of supporting economic growth is refusing to stand for the presidency on the grounds that he might lose – proving the adage, “No guts, no glory.”
Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was a foreign editor of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.