Could Michael Bloomberg become the first Jewish president? News that Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, is taking a new look at throwing his hat into the ring, is certainly a tantalizing turn of events. One report has it that His Honor (the customary way one refers to American mayors) is prepared to precipitate a billion dollars of his own money into an independent candidacy. For Bloomberg this is bupkis.
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The astonishing fact is that Bloomberg, the 44th wealthiest person in the Milky Way, is, according to the Forbes list, ten times richer than Donald Trump. According to the New York Times, Trump’s emergence at the van of the Republican field has galled the former mayor, who is also “troubled” by Hillary Clinton’s “stumbles” and by the rise in the Democratic field of the socialist senator Bernie Sanders.
I, for one, hope Bloomberg decides to run. I’ve published so many editorials to that effect that I could probably be picked up for littering. It’s not that I’m a fan of Bloomberg’s political views; I’m several kilo-parsecs to his right. But I’m an admirer of the journalistic — and business — empire he has built, and he was a credible mayor of New York, where he backed, in Ray Kelly, a particularly heroic police commissioner.
Victory in the present presidential campaign would no doubt be a long shot. Bloomberg spent $102 million winning a third term as mayor, and when the smoke cleared he had barely edged a decent but lackluster candidate, Bill Thompson, by 50,597 votes. They cost Bloomberg a staggering $2,015 per ballot, by my arithmetic. At that rate the margin of President Obama’s victory margin over Mitt Romney would have cost more than $10 billion.
Mr. Bloomberg, though, wouldn’t need that kind of margin to upend the presidential race. It’s not hard to imagine that he would immediately attract a slice of what might be called the Republican Party’s sedate wing. They are upset with both GOP front runners, Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. They are despondent that that, say, Jeb Bush can’t get out of low gear. Bloomberg would give them an option that is not Democratic.
Yet my guess is that Bloomberg would do more damage to the Democratic candidate than the Republicans. He is, after all, a Democrat at heart (and endorsed President Obama), and it is with the Democrats that his policy obsessions overlap. He’s an outspoken backer of same sex marriage and abortion rights, and an outspoken opponent of the right to keep and bear arms. He endorsed Obama because, of all things, climate change.
The one area where Bloomberg breaks from both packs is on immigration. He’s been consistent and the best-on-the-beat. In 2008, he gave a “State of the City” speech called “Open Your Eyes.” He stood on a platform with families who’d come to New York from all over the word and, after railing against high taxes, ripped into the politicians who, in search of political advantage, had turned against immigration.
“To those who are wailing against immigration, to those politicians who, all of a sudden, have embraced xenophobia, I say: open your eyes,” the mayor said. “Take a look behind me. This is what makes America great. This is New York City. This is freedom. This is compassion, and democracy, and opportunity.” It would be terrific if he could do that in a year in which “New York values” have, thanks to Ted Cruz’s jibe against Donald Trump, become an issue.
Not that I’m hostile to Cruz. On policy, on the Constitution, he’s without peer in this race. He’s for a flat tax and the gold standard, the two moves most likely to ignite rapid economic growth and a boom in job creation in America. He is the most brilliant constitutionalist to have run for president in generations. He has been losing altitude of late, but the race is young yet. At this stage in 1980, the leading columnist of the New York Times was writing off Ronald Reagan.
Yet it would be no small thing were Bloomberg to enter the fray. If it does, in fact, turn out to be Donald Trump for the GOP and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, Bloomberg would mean that there would be three New Yorkers at the top of the ballot. If it turns out that Sanders is nominee, it would also be three New Yorkers (Sanders was born here) and two Jews. What a remarkable outcome that would be for a presidential campaign that started out with a quarrel about the values of the city in which George Washington swore the presidential oath for the first time.
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.