- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

What possible reason could New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have for withdrawing from the Republican Party, particularly now, if he isn’t planning to run for president?

His protestations are mild at best, stating that his “intention is to be mayor for the next 925 days.” Every campaign starts with the candidate claiming he or she has no intention to run.

But remember, this is a man who switched to the Republican Party in 2001 to position himself in the New York City mayoral election. Might he be using the same playbook six years later?

Anyone who can write a $1 billion check to his campaign coffer shouldn’t be ignored. Mr. Bloomberg could be a serious threat to both major political parties. He clearly sees the presidential field of serious contenders as a polarized one, which invites a centrist candidate who can pull the plurality of the vote from moderates disenchanted with having a choice between bad and worse.

Mr. Bloomberg knows he could never win the Republican nomination because of his liberal stances on social issues like abortion, immigration and gun control. It’s also questionable whether a Republican can win the presidency in 2008. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 52 percent to 31 percent want a Democrat to win the presidency next year.

Instead, Mr. Bloomberg hopes the candidate who emerges from the conservative purification process otherwise known as the Republican primary will fall so far right that moderate Republicans will be ripe for the picking. Mr. Bloomberg’s best-case scenario is for both parties to nominate their most extreme candidates and for him to waltz in as the reasoned, bipartisan, independent Beltway-outsider.

I am glad to say Republicans have more to fear from this scenario than Democrats. Democrats don’t feel that they are choosing between bad and worse in their field of candidates, whereas polling shows the majority of Republicans are dissatisfied by the choices available to them, and 57 percent wish they had more choices, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll last month, which found only 35 percent of Democrats wished they had more choices.

Democrats are generally happy with the choices available to them because there are some really good ones. The Democratic presidential field offers pragmatic liberalism — fiscally responsible universal heath care plans, business and environment-friendly energy plans, investment in early childhood education and a phased redeployment in Iraq — and a field of candidates who can win. The number of Democrats likely to defect from the party nominee because the candidate is too far left is far smaller than the number of Republicans likely to defect because the candidate is too far right. No one, save the small fraction of the population still boosting his dismally low approval ratings, wants another Bush in the White House.

Mr. Bloomberg will likely differ from the Republican nominee on social issues and the Democratic nominee on fiscal issues. The Republicans Mr. Bloomberg is likely to lose based upon his liberal stances on such divisive issues as same-sex “marriage” and abortion are far more numerous than the Democrats he is likely to gain through conservative fiscal policies, because there are more single-issue voters on social issues than there are on fiscal issues.

In its entire history, the United States has never elected a third-party candidate to the presidency. The closest anyone has come in the last quarter-century is Ross Perot with 19 percent of the vote in 1996. The only third-party candidates to garner electoral votes by winning states were George Wallace in 1968, Strom Thurmond in 1948, Robert LaFollette in 1924 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.

But Mr. Bloomberg has a lot to offer the country. He can be the candidate to help bridge the partisan divide, or force Congress to stop butting heads and do something for a change. And, with a race estimated to cost $1 billion, a half-billion-dollar investment can buy him one heck of a head start, which is more than most third-party candidates get when they enter the presidential marathon.

Typically, the pinnacle of achievement for a third-party candidate, who often languishes in virtual anonymity, is being tarred a “spoiler” by the defeated party or a “savior” by the party that captures the presidency. I’m not saying Mr. Bloomberg can’t win the presidency, just that if he does, we’ll know exactly how much the White House costs.

Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist, a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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