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I wrote something long on Medium, so you should probably Instapaper it and plan to read it on a future flight or something.
Jonathan Chait has a theory of how Bloomberg could win. I’m less interested in engaging with that, though I have my quibbles. Instead, I’d like to focus on something that tends to be elided during election season – what moral duty Michael Bloomberg has to the American people in making the decision to run.
Making a decision to run for a major party’s nomination is generally a pretty clear-cut decision, ethically speaking. One runs if one thinks one is the best option that party has for both winning the Presidency and the best option the nation has in a potential President. This is why there is probably some inherent madness to the act of running, but doing so through the normal channels is inherently straightforward in this regard (though that ignores the ethical questions relating to campaign conduct; that’s a whole different issue).
Running as a potentially-credible independent or third-party candidate, however, is substantially thornier. Doing so is inherently disruptive to the political process; moreover, there is an unavoidable ideological gamble involved. Such a candidate, in an admittedly oversimplified model, is drawing most of their support from the major party candidates; the crux is that they are very likely drawing more support from one candidate than from the other. The paradox is that the candidate from which they are drawing support is almost assuredly the candidate which they are closer to ideologically. While this point is disputable, it certainly seems credible to speculate that, absent Ralph Nader, Al Gore wins in 2000; given the events of just the first W term, one doesn’t need much imagination to see how that could’ve drastically reshaped the last fifteen years.
This issue is exacerbated at times when “normal” politics isn’t working well. Certainly Bush I and Bill Clinton would have governed different in the early ’90s, but neither of them were likely to immediately drastically destabilize America’s political, social, or economic systems.
That is decidedly not the case in 2016. There is, as of this writing, a very real chance that the Republican Party may nominate a candidate with a very high chance of immediately drastically destabilizing America’s political, social, or economic systems if elected.
Everything else that makes the comparison ludicrous aside, this is the fundamental asymmetry between Trump and Sanders. Bernie Sanders is a career politician. He is a left-wing (by American standards) career politician, but a career politician nonetheless. He did a bang-up job as the mayor of a real city, played nice in the House of Representatives for nearly two decades, and was a committee chairman in the United States Senate. His platform, if enacted, would be bad (at least in partial equilibrium) for the wallets of the Mike Bloombergs of the country, and the validation of his tone and rhetoric that nomination and election would bring would be bad for the egos of the Mike Bloombergs of the country. But Bernie Sanders wouldn’t break the country. Donald Trump would. Given the overwhelming likelihood of a GOP Congress in 2017, a Sanders presidency would be further restrained, but a Trump Presidency would face, at best, unpredictable restraint.
So the question for Mike Bloomberg cannot simply be “what are my chances of winning the Presidency?” The question must also be, “if I do not win the Presidency, do I make the election of Donald Trump more likely?” Given the possibility that he may draw at least as many Democratic-inclined voters as Republican-inclined voters if he runs, and given the fact that, should he throw the election to the GOP-donimated House if he denies either major-party nominee 270 electoral votes, the answer to that second question is very likely “yes.”
I am extremely certain that not only does Mike Bloomberg not read this blog, but that nobody of even remotely comparable wealth and prestige who could directly influence his decision reads this blog, either. Nevertheless, I’m going to address my conclusion directly to him:
Michael Bloomberg, you need to think long and hard about the consequences of the decision you are considering; not just about how and why you might seek the Presidency, but what could happen if you fail. I understand that the possibility of a Sanders Presidency seems worse than unpalatable to you, but there are far, far worse things than a left-wing Democrat in office with a Republican Congress to restrain them. If you run for President, and Donald Trump is elected, when history looks back on the dark era sure to follow, you will be first and foremost among those who receive the blame.
For months now, observers have been wondering why the Republican Party has been failing to rally around one seemingly-obvious candidate in particular. Young, new to the United States Senate, he is smart, well-spoken, represents a large and diverse state, and would be the first Latino nominee of a major party. Despite some bumpiness in his tenure, his positions on most issues are conventional, and he is likely to have similar priorities to a Republican Congress. Even though he’s rubbed some of his colleagues the wrong way, the media has been pretty unified over the last few months in wondering:
“Why won’t the Republican elite rally around Ted Cruz?”
Ha ha ha, just kidding, nobody’s been asking that. Instead, they’ve been asking that about Marco Rubio, get it, he also meets that description. The problem with Rubio, though, is that he’s irrevocably tied to being on the wrong side of what has becoming the defining issue in the primary for nakedly cynical reasons and more generally that he’s an empty suit and even more generally that voters don’t seem to actually, you know, like him or want to vote for him.
But Ted Cruz doesn’t have that problem! He won Iowa! He placed third in New Hampshire despite it being an exceptionally weak state for him, behind the overwhelming winner and the guy who had banked 100% of everything on ekeing out second place, but ahead of Rubio and Jeb! He’s right there! What’s going on?
Ha ha ha, just kidding, we all know what’s going on. The problem with Ted Cruz is that literally ever person who has spent more than a few seconds in his physical presence apparently loathes him. Major publications are practically building out entire verticals devoted solely to aggregating quotes from public figures about the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard-of-the-soul experience that is interacting with Ted Cruz. And, yeah, he definitely hijacked the Senate that one time to shut down the government, putting his interests ahead of the party.
But you know what? It worked! It demonstrated an ability to understand and interact with a complex network of institutions to achieve his goals. It showed savvy. It was entrepenuerial. And unlike Marco Rubio’s immigration SNAFU, it showed he had, and has, his fingers much more squarely on the pulse of key portions of the GOP primary electorate.
Let me be clear – a Ted Cruz presidency would be terrible. And, as the Republican nominee, he would probably lose. He is very conservative! He would probably rub a lot of voters the wrong way because, truly, being a successful politician who nonetheless rubs people the wrong way, deeply, in their bones, is Ted Cruz’s unique gift in life.
But he is decidedly not Donald Trump. Donald Trump is scary. Donald Trump is accountable to nobody. Donald Trump is a monster. A Ted Cruz candidacy would most likely be a Goldwater- or McGovern-esque loss; a Donald Trump’s candidacy has an equal chance of either accelerating centrifugal forces in the Republican Party and coalition past the point of no return, or of being something much, much worse for the future of American democracy itself.
Any long-term thinking on the part of the Republican elite should, at this point, realize that the collective odds of Bush, Kasich, and Rubio securing the nomination are slim; the contest, at this point, may very quickly become an effective two-man race if Trump and Cruz 1-2 South Carolina and Nevada. The long-term viability of the Republican Party is, frankly, in doubt no matter what happens this year, but it is in much better shape if it loses in a large but ultimately controlled and predictable way than if it puts all its chips on…whatever it is we will one day call Trumpism. The GOP and its elite, to put it bluntly, should prefer to “Lose with Cruz” (now there’s a campaign slogan) than to grab the toupeed tiger by the tail and ride it into the dark unknown.
The fact that this decision seems gobsmackingly obvious from anyone outside the group of, at most, a few thousand people who constitute the core of the GOP elite, yet so repulsive to those few thousand people themselves, is a little scary in what is says about the inability of high-level political actors to put the political ahead of the personal. Shoot, just before the Rubio bubble had its brief moment, just before the Rubio bubble had its brief moment, just be[whack], there was a crazy spate of stories about how the Republican elite might actually prefer Trump to Cruz because Cruz is a galaxy-class asshole. How those stories will play out now that Trump is winning primaries and Rubio may have dispelled himself once and for all remains to be seen. But it would be a collective gamble of reckless, amoral, cynical, myopic abandon unlike any in recent American history for a major party’s elites to even acquiesce to the nomination of someone like Trump; it would be staggering if a perfectly viable and much more predictable and conventional, if not exactly promising, alternative were discarded simply because the person inhabiting that alternative has all the charisma of microwaved fish.