More Bloomberg

I had missed this WSJ piece on his potential candidacy, but I wasn't missing much - it's a classic example of how not to analyze American politics, and particularly third-party forays. Trying to outline Bloomberg's potential appeal, for instance, the Journal has this to say:

Should he run, Mr. Bloomberg's fiscal-conservative, social-moderate credentials could undermine the candidacy of Rudy Giuliani, the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Both play up moderate stands on abortion, gay rights and gun control. Mr. Bloomberg also could draw votes from a Democrat seen as too left of the mainstream on taxes and budget control, such as former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. He might leach support from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, whose appeal relies partly on talk of ending partisan squabbling.

The middle point is fair enough: Bloomberg might well get votes from socially-liberal deficit-hawk types by contrasting his fiscal conservatism with Edwards' populism and poverty-talk. But the notion that he would take votes from major-party candidates he resembles - Giuliani on the social issues, Obama on "beyondism" - reflects a deep misunderstanding of how third-party candidacies usually work. Because the two party system is so deeply entrenched in the popular consciousness, it's extremely hard to win votes as a third-party guy by out-Democrating a Democrat or out-Republicaning a Republican. Independent candidacies make a splash when they're different from the choices on offer, not when they're similar: If candidate A and candidate B have roughly the same kind of appeal, and candidate A is affiliated with a major party and candidate B is an independent, then candidate A has a huge leg up. A third-party candidate needs to find the issues the major-party candidates are ignoring, not try to do them one better on the issues they're already associated with.

Which is why major third-party candidates tend to be populists, like Perot and Wallace, and not "moderate middle" types like Bloomberg - because populist issues tend to get overlooked by the two parties, while "moderate middle" issues tend to be overemphasized. And that, in turn, is why the Journal's comparison of Bloomberg to Perot is so inapt. They're both billionaires, obviously, but that's more or less where the similarities between them end. As Ben Smith pointed out last year:

The people who study third parties, however, are skeptical that Bloomberg would resonate with the typical third-party voter--not a New Yorker who likes his mayor but a voter in Utah or Maine (the two states where Perot finished second) who is suspicious of her government. According to Ronald Rapoport and Walter Stone, authors of a new study of Perot's politics, Three's a Crowd, Perot's appeal came as much from his specific positions that had been abandoned by both parties--he was for a nationalistic cocktail of isolationism, libertarianism, budget-balancing, and rolling back free trade--as it did from his outsider, reformist stance. But the kind of third-party discussion that animates Manhattan dinner parties has, oddly, ignored the one issue that candidates actually have failed to address. "The issue of immigration is the issue on which a third party could form," Rapoport says. "The third party on immigration is the party which says, 'Send them back.'"

..."If you were going to ask me who represents the Perot voter," he says, "Lou Dobbs comes a lot closer than Bloomberg."

Now that's how you do political analysis. Smith's piece should be required reading for anyone writing about Bloomberg's chances - or, more likely, his lack thereof.