Bloomberg Can't Quite Give Up His Presidential Dreams

Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Michael Bloomberg—or someone working on Michael Bloomberg’s behalf—has been polling on the former New York mayor’s chances as a third-party presidential candidate. The New York Times reports:

Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire media executive and former New York mayor, was intrigued enough by the prospect of Mr. Trump’s becoming the Republican standard-bearer that he commissioned a poll last month testing how he would fare against Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, according to two sources close to Mr. Bloomberg. But he has often very publicly flirted with a run, savored the attention, then announced that he would not pursue the candidacy.

But as the Daily News notes, no one has released the results from the poll, which seems perhaps revealing—if they’d been favorable, wouldn’t the leakers have leaked those as well?

That’s not the only reason to be skeptical about a Bloomberg campaign.

A few months ago, I sifted through nearly a decade of stories about Bloomberg flirting with a presidential run, and the main takeaway—as the Times notes—is that the man seems to enjoy people talking about his candidacy, but also be pretty realistic about his chances. He’s said repeatedly (and probably correctly) that an independent candidate cannot win, and more specifically that a “short, Jewish, divorced billionaire” can’t win. Besides, Bloomberg seems to have a pretty good life hanging out with his family, spending heavily against guns, and creating havoc at his eponymous company after years away. Given that many of the past Bloomberg trial balloons seem to have been floated by aides who wanted Mike to run, rather than by Mike himself, it seems possible this is more of the same.

The political calculus is particularly steep for Bloomberg in a Trump vs. Clinton race. You want a thin-skinned New York billionaire who likes to plaster his name on things? There’s one of those in the race already. You want a transplanted New Yorker who’s close to Wall Street, fiscally moderate, socially liberal, and criticized for not being relatable? There’s one of those, too. It’d be easier to find an open lane in the Holland Tunnel at rush hour than in that race.

All that said, recent polls show a tight Democratic race. What if Senator Bernie Sanders upsets Clinton to win the nomination? Suddenly, there might be more space for a moderate candidate who appeals to business interests. If nothing else, Two Billionaires and a Bernie would be a fun race to watch.