If there’s anything that gets the pulses of mainstream media political pundits racing faster than the possibility of a “brokered convention,” it’s the phrase “third party candidate.” For veteran political reporters, the words conjure up the prospect of a presidential campaign that deviates from the traditional Republican vs. Democrat template, and offers the tantalizing fantasy of a mythical “centrist” “common sense” candidate eschewing “politics as usual” in the interest of “getting things done.”
Thus, for much of the media, the possibility of a Michael Bloomberg presidential run is like catnip. Headlines heralded Bloomberg’s withdrawal from the Republican Party as a potential precursor to an independent presidential run; the UPI trumpeted that “Bloomberg laid presidential framework” and CBS alluded to “Bloomberg’s Years of Presidential Planning.” Outside the New York-DC axis, the response was similar; KUTV in Utah observed that “Bloomberg could shake up 2008 presidential race” while as far away as the United Kingdom, the Telegraph speculated that “Bloomberg could be America’s kingmaker.”
But in their over-the-top excitement, these outlets are like young brides dreaming about their weddings without giving any thought to what happens after the ceremony. Suppose – against all odds – Michael Bloomberg actually succeeds in becoming President of the United States. What then? Although it’s become fashionable to deride ideology and party loyalty as mindless and divisive “partisanship,” in fact, a president’s party organization plays an important role not only in shaping an agenda for a presidential candidate -- but also in helping him enact it once he is elected.
That’s because legislators are committed, at least to some degree, to the success of a president of their own party. There's an incentive for them to cooperate with him even at some political cost – or when they otherwise might not – as he attempts to enact key initiatives. Today, there are Republicans who would, no doubt, abandon the Iraq war were it not for residual party loyalty; back in 1992, many Democrats supported the left-wing, labyrinthine “HillaryCare” health care plan simply to be helpful to the new Clinton Administration.
Without the built-in support provided by legislators of the same party, a president is on his own – and each member of the House and Senate feels freer to go his (or her) own way when it comes to every item on a president’s to-do list. For those who still believe that government is capable of operating efficiently, imagine the mess that would result if every member of the House and Senate felt empowered to embark on a “maverick” course like a John McCain mini-me.
Theoretically, there might someday be a president with the kind of overwhelming public support and charisma that would allow him abandon a party structure altogether and motivate legislators exclusively through constant and direct contact with “the people.” But such a phenomenon is unlikely, at best. For one thing, most Americans aren’t interested in being consulted on every detail of their own governance. Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to grief trying to lead by public referendum. He couldn’t get his original agenda enacted by appealing over legislators’ heads to the people – and he’s the type of elected official most likely to succeed at such an attempt: Likable, charismatic, with widespread name ID derived largely from a film career.
Michael Bloomberg has few of these attributes – although he does have piles of his own money. And though his financial wherewithal could be enough to make him an effective spoiler – for the Democrats, since many of his policies and sympathies match theirs, or for the Republicans, through innumerable ads that drive their popularity down even further – it’s not likely to get him all the way to the Oval Office. What’s more, it’s certainly not enough to help him govern successfully should he somehow find himself there.
Ultimately, the MSM political pundits will have to come to terms with the fact that it’s easier to talk about jettisoning “politics as usual” than it is to actually “get something done” once ideology and party affiliation has been thrown out the window. It’s all well and good for Bloomberg to denounce the “tired debate between the left and right,” but ultimately, the question is this: How, exactly, does an independent candidate – standing for nothing more than a “nonpartisan” replacement of ideology and political principle with “efficiency” and “competence” – succeed in governing a nation in a way that is either principled or efficient?