Just When I Thought He Was Out...
Maybe Mike Bloomberg really will run for president. I'm always loath to credit the Washington Moonie Times, but per Political Wire, that paper reports that he's set aside $1 billion and "lowered the bar" to potentially jump into the race. Charlie Cook's weekly political e-mail (unlinkable, alas, as it's not on a website so far as I can tell) speculates as well, specifically focusing on the possibility of a Bloomberg/Chuck Hagel ticket. (Hagel's certainly into it, though he might want to reverse the names. No way that happens, by the way--Bloomberg is nobody's #2. More likely, Hagel would be a de facto co-president, more or less running foreign policy, perhaps in tandem with a Democratic Secretary of State like Bob Kerrey, who represents for both Nebraska and NYC.) And the New York Times speculated again yesterday about a Bloomberg campaign, noting that he's reactivated his old campaign website.
I realize that it makes as much sense to complain about a partisan rag slanting its coverage as about a rabid dog biting passers-by, but I'm a little miffed that the Moonie piece evidently characterizes Bloomberg as "a social liberal and fiscal conservative." The first part is true, but the second is absurd. Bloomberg isn't a budgetary tightwad by any means: he's pledged $150 million of city money to the most ambitious anti-poverty campaign NYC has seen in at least 35 years, and potentially wants to obligate billions toward his "PlaNYC" campaign to manage the city's growth over the next 20 years or so. He did dig New York out of the $6 billion budget hole he inherited from Rudy Giuliani, but that's not "conservative" so much as "responsible"--especially considering that the biggest means by which he did this was a record tax hike on home owners. That assessment is actually the example par excellence of Bloomberg's pragmatism: it was steep and came in for understandable but brutal criticism--and as soon as the books were balanced, he started making good to those he'd dunned with big rebates and other goodies. You can't have a 73 percent approval rating with home owners still mad at you.
A Bloomberg/Giuliani race would be fascinating, considering that New Yorkers themselves (ourselves) overwhelmingly prefer the current mayor both in that job and the presidency. I could see Rudy running against New York even as he presents himself as its, and the nation's, defender against the turr'ists. But I don't think Rudy's getting to the general election, which would obviate the awkwardness of Bloomberg running against the guy who (like it or not, and I don't) basically gave him the mayoralty in late 2001.
But the real intrigue would be Bloomberg versus Hillary Clinton.
For thinking Democrats, particularly the more progressive activists who disdain (or detest) Hillary and are currently supporting Barack Obama or John Edwards, this will be a conundrum. Bloomberg's a better manager, he would have vastly more ability to get legislation passed, and in some respects he could run to Sen. Clinton's left--he's simply a much stronger social liberal, with a demonstrated commitment to economic justice. But he's not a Democrat (anymore). The unions probably would back Hillary... though the NYC unions don't hate Bloomberg, and Clinton's top advisor, Mark Penn, has some pretty ugly anti-labor credentials that Bloomberg's team would be quick to exploit. She'd have African-Americans, probably, though Bloomberg is sufficiently popular with black leaders in the city that he could send out a bunch of plausible surrogates and probably do at least as well as Bush did in '04.
I've almost convinced myself that this could happen. If ever the country were ready for a "short, divorced Jewish billionaire" who doesn't pander or dumb it down, it would be after the disastrous years of Bush, who is Bloomberg's polar opposite. If the Democrats really do nominate Hillary, that will block off millions of independents and moderate Republicans who would be open to some Democrats but not to That Woman. None of the Republicans really look credible in a general election; Fred Thompson has huge flaws that will come into focus if and when he gets in, McCain is too tied to the war and carries the baggage of his past good deeds; and Romney is just sort of pathetic.
It still feels like a stretch that the country would recognize Bloomberg for the excellent president he could be. But not nearly as much as it did a few months ago.