Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York mayor, is considering making an independent bid for the presidency, a move that could provide yet another wild turn in a 2016 race that has already seen more than its share of them.
Bloomberg’s deliberations, first reported by The New York Times, were confirmed Saturday by several close associates.
This is not the first time that Bloomberg has explored the possibility, always making a pragmatic calculation of whether winning is feasible.
Three associates said that several factors have convinced him that a run outside of the Republican and Democratic party process is worth another look.
One is the possibility that the Republican ticket may be headed by a polarizing figure, such as his fellow New York billionaire Donald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the two leaders of the GOP race at this stage. Trump, once expected to be a temporary phenomenon, has dominated the large GOP field for so many months that it is no longer assumed that the Republican establishment will be able to stop him.
The other is that the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, may turn out to be a far weaker candidate than was once expected – and might even lose the nomination to Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist whose mainstream appeal is in question.
If the right combination of those possibilities begins to look likely – which Bloomberg thinks could become apparent in March, after the first big round of state primaries – he believes they could create an opening for him to make a credible run as an independent.
“It’s something that he’s looked at, off and on, for years, and every now and then, he polls. At one point, he concluded it just couldn’t be done,” said one Bloomberg friend, speaking on the condition of anonymity, because of the political sensitivities involved.
But with the unexpected upheavals that appear to be taking place in both parties, the friend said: “What you have is some stirrings, and people taking some fresh looks.”
In addition to his considerable financial resources, Bloomberg has a reputation as a skilled manager and political bridge builder. A longtime Democrat, he switched to the Republican party to run for mayor in 2001. Six years later, he changed his registration to independent.
Bloomberg made his fortune by founding the financial news and information company that bears his name. It has made the desktop Bloomberg terminal all but indispensible for those who make their money off of real-time financial data.
He took office less than four months after New York was traumatized by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, pledging that the city would remain “safe, strong, open for business and ready to lead the world in the 21st century.”
When Bloomberg left the post 12 years later, New York was thriving, by most measures: the economy was robust, crime was down, the transportation system more efficient, and a budget deficit estimated at more than $3 billion when he took over transformed into a $2.4 billion surplus.
The biggest blot on his mayoral record was authorizing an aggressive policing tactic, known as “stop and frisk,” which was found unconstitutional by a federal court, which said it was used in a discriminatory way against law-abiding citizens, who were mostly black and Hispanic.
The onetime Republican has moderate views on social issues. In 2014, he launched a $50 million effort to take on the National Rifle Association on gun control, an issue that Clinton has also emphasized in her campaign.
Word of Bloomberg’s deliberations comes with the first contest in Iowa just a week away, and at a tense moment for Clinton.
Where the former secretary of state was once seen as all but invincible her second bid for the Democratic nomination, most of the energy in the race now seems to be with Sanders. He has closed the gap with her in polls out of Iowa and enjoys a comfortable lead in New Hampshire.
Senior Democrats say that something close to a panic is setting in among party fundraisers and interest groups that have invested heavily in Clinton’s candidacy.
“There are so many parallels to 2008,” said one longtime Clinton ally and adviser, referring to the race in which she had begun as the frontrunner but lost to first-term Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
“There’s no question in my mind that there is real worry,” the Clinton ally added. He spoke on the condition that he not be identified, for fear of offending her.
Should Bloomberg decide to enter the race, he would be up against a formidable set of challenges, starting with the fact that no third-party contender has ever won the White House. The most successful of them – including ex-president Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 and businessman H. Ross Perot in 1992 – are remembered mostly for having drawn votes from one of the major parties, and thrown the election to the other.
Bloomberg also is not all that well known outside the political circles of the Northeast. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in April of 2014 found that 18 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of him, 28 percent had a neutral one, 26 percent had a negative opinion. However, 28 percent said they were not familiar with his name, or were not sure how they viewed him.
The New York Times reported that Bloomberg has retained a consultant to help him figure out what it would take to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. The Times also reported that Bloomberg will do another round of polling after the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary to assess whether voters might have an appetite for him to enter the race.