The 2020 US Election will involve at least one billionaire, regardless of whether Donald Trump is on the ticket. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is the latest to enter the race, although he would rather be described as a ‘person of means’.
From the reaction to his ambitions and slither of early publicity, signals for are not encouraging. Schultz was immediately targeted for abuse amid accusations of being a spoiler who would split the anti-Trump vote. His approval rating among those who’ve heard of him is a pitiful 4% - whether Republicans, Democrats or Independents.
At least Schultz has the chance to at least introduce himself on his own terms, via a special CNN town hall event today. Proof if ever it were needed of the political advantages money can buy. Nevertheless, 100/1 with Ladbrokes makes no appeal.
Extra candidates would indeed likely split the anti-Trump vote but Schultz would be on to a loser whatever the year. It is very hard to envisage a third candidate breaking the GOP/Democrat duopoly in the electoral college. The parties represent ongoing interests and fissures within society and are embedded in their core areas.
Yes, Trump broke the mould but not as an independent. If you want to beat the political establishment, you must join one of their parties and adopt most of their positions. Trump was once a ‘very pro-choice kind of guy’ who bankrolled Democrats.
One man who must have considered this throughout many years pondering a White House bid is Michael Bloomberg. The former Mayor of New York City really did break the duopoly. He won liberal New York as both a Republican and Independent, despite previously registering a Democrat.
In contrast to Howard Schultz, Michael Bloomberg has long been the type that excites betting markets. Punters like his NYC achievements and know his extraordinary wealth could mean a genuinely self-financed campaign, not beholden to vested interests - something voters tend to like.
He was a popular pick - below 25/1 at one stage - in 2016, when reported to be making serious plans. This was at a time when a Trump/Sanders general election looked a serious prospect, leaving a vacuum in the centre ground. As I recall, Bloomberg opted out because his polling showed he would help elect Trump against either Democrat.
Following that bombshell result, Bloomberg made his choice - rejoining the Democrats and donating an eyewatering $100M to mid-term congressional campaigns. Cynics will say Bloomberg was trying to buy the Democrat nomination but, in reality, this is entirely consistent with his past. He has long bankrolled and fought for liberal causes - whether gun control, public health or fighting climate change.
While the president sounds the alarm about a wall we don’t need, he ignores real challenges like climate change and gun violence — which claims 100 lives a day inside our borders. We won’t be distracted from finding solutions. #SOTU— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) 6 February 2019
Nor is it clear he will pursue the nomination. When interviewed before Christmas, he indicated a decision would be made in the New Year. Three weeks ago he said he’d decide within a month or so. Most potential rivals have now declared, but there as been no further word.
Perhaps he has understandably concluded that the party faithful aren't looking for an old, rich white man. He is not an obvious Democrat leader and a best offer of 40/1 with 888 for the White House doesn't interest me. However, I really hope Bloomberg runs, for a number of reasons.
First he will balance the ideological debate. The leading candidates are engaged in a dash to the Left, in order to court primary voters. Various plans to raise taxes on the very wealthy are underway, in order to finance healthcare for all, lower tuition costs or the ‘green new deal’.
It may well prove that the USA is finally ready for the type of social democracy Europeans take for granted. However going too far down that road contains risk. Trump would love to deride his opponents as Venezuelan-style socialists who would wreck the economy. It might win back some affluent, suburban defectors.
Bloomberg, in contrast, is a fiscal conservative. That is why he became a Republican. Even if his economic arguments don't win out on the Left, they might serve to moderate the rest. Nobody is going to dispute his grasp of finance and economics.
It is essential to understand how this party debate is structured. We are looking at over a dozen candidates, perhaps even more than the 18 Republicans that needed two stages for their TV debates.
The effect will be a desperate scramble for attention. Being a relatively unknown politician in that environment is extremely difficult. With merely his presence, wealth, experience and slightly different political take, Bloomberg will inevitably stand out. He too will have plenty of zingers for this liberal audience, particularly on gun control.
These debates, offering a direct line to the public, is where Bloomberg's outside chance lies. His brand of pragmatic centrism might be just what swing voters want in these ultra-polarised times. Note too that Democrats regard the importance of electability much higher than when foolishly choosing Hillary Clinton.
At this stage four years ago, she was 6/4 for the presidency, while few gave Trump a prayer of even winning the GOP nomination. The context and party involved are very different this time around but Bloomberg is incomparably better qualified for the job.
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