A Bulwark of Moderation

Alex Fine, JHU:

Amid a sea of slogans, talking heads, and political gaffes, the current election cycle can overwhelm the casual observer. Last week, Republican Senator Ted Cruz and businessman Donald Trump split over half the votes in Iowa, having both launched xenophobic campaigns that denounced the party establishment, liberalism, and “New York values,” while appealing to evangelicals and conservatives to help “make American great again.” On the left, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was surprised by a near defeat at the hands of independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who has made a name for himself deriding income inequality, corporate America, and “the Billionaire Class.”

After the successes of Cruz, Trump, and Sanders in Iowa, it has become apparent that the United States has become enthralled by a wave of populism. As the primaries continue to unfold, the Republican and Democratic establishments will be flummoxed by how to deal with increasing support for both the far left and right. In his final State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama expressed regret that he would be leaving the office with “the rancor and suspicion between the parties [having] gotten worse instead of better.” Despite their mutual antagonism and clear policy disagreements, Sanders, Trump, and Cruz have found common ground in both berating the political and economic elite of the United States and blaming them for the country’s problems. These bellicose, blanketing statements have succeeded in motivating voters and activists to campaign for their candidates, but at the cost of civil discussion, moderation, and the willingness to compromise.

As Donald Trump calls for a ban on Muslim immigration to the country, and as Hillary Clinton fights off an alleged smear campaign from Bernie Sanders for accepting campaign contributions from financial institutions, many voters are left wondering if a moderate, electable candidate still exists in this era of hyper-partisanship. While all the men and women currently running for the nation’s highest office are undoubtedly passionate, there seems little room for compromise. Several candidates from both parties have largely campaigned on promises to undue much of the legislation that President Obama has fought for over the last eight years. Fortunately for moderates out there, there is an alternative.

Former three-term New York City Mayor and billionaire entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg is not your typical presidential candidate. Even though he has been elected to office as both a Democrat and Republican over the years, he is currently an independent with policy positions falling on both sides of the aisle. As a self-described fiscal conservative, Bloomberg balanced the New York City budget and saw the city’s wealth and safety increase tremendously over his 12 years in office. Also a well-known advocate of public health, he banned smoking in public places within the city limits and added extra bike lanes and calorie counters to the average New Yorker’s life. As a social liberal, Bloomberg has historically supported gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control, and comprehensive immigration reform. He also has an incredible business acumen, having created a multi-billion dollar financial technology and media company, eponymously named Bloomberg LP, which currently employs over 20,000 people globally. Through his impressive career, Bloomberg has embraced different view points on public policy that cross the political spectrum and has had decades of experience negotiating, leading, and most importantly, compromising.

Over the past several months, the former mayor has said that he would publicly consider a potential presidential campaign if he feels that there is no viable alternative nominated from either party. As an opponent of extremism, Bloomberg said that he would only enter the race as a 3rd party candidate if either Cruz or Trump faced off against Sanders in the general election. Even if this were the case, it would still be an uphill battle.

Although Bloomberg’s moderate politics give him credence as a leader, they also make him nearly unelectable in a national campaign. Liberals are wary of him because of his close ties to Wall Street and his advocacy for controversial stop-and-frisk police tactics that target minority citizens. Conservatives despise him for his liberal social views as well as his simmering war with the NRA. Bloomberg also has to contend with historical precedent. Specifically no third party candidate has ever won a national general election, and the last one to win even a single electoral vote was segregationist George Wallace back in 1968. Although he currently isn’t polling well among primary voters, he has far greater upside in the general voting population.

According to a Bipartisan Policy Center poll, only 16% of voters in the 2012 general election participated in a primary or caucus in the same presidential campaign cycle. What this means is that roughly five out of every six Americans are not inspired by the partisan campaigns of candidates like Trump, Cruz, or Sanders. In other words, a plurality of Americans identify as independents, rather than as Republicans or Democrats. This is largely indicative of a growing frustration with those currently serving in Washington. By both being a political outsider, like those currently finding success in the primaries, and being a moderate with some appeal to most Americans, Bloomberg has the potential to reach this silent majority of independent voters in a national general election. Although it would be an uphill battle, Americans are not truly satisfied with the partisan nature of the political process today, and would most likely crave someone who would be able to transcend party lines. Michael Bloomberg could fill that roll.

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