THREE times Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and founder of his eponymous financial-news company, has come close to running for president. In 2016 he decided that campaigning as an independent—then his political affiliation—would split the vote and propel Mr Trump to victory; he instead endorsed Hillary Clinton. This week Mr Bloomberg registered as a Democrat. The move has fuelled speculation that he is ramping up for a go in 2020. It would probably be the last chance for Mr Bloomberg, who will be almost 79 by the time America’s next president is inaugurated.
As he noted when announcing his registration—with simultaneous posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—Mr Bloomberg has been a Democrat most of his life. He left the party, becoming a Republican, in 2001 when he first ran for mayor of New York. He governed the mostly Democratic city as a Republican for two of three terms; in 2007, he became an independent. In recent months Mr Bloomberg has positioned himself firmly back in the Democratic camp with some mammoth donations to the party’s mid-terms campaigns. He promised $80m to help Democrats retake the House of Representatives. Following the ugly fight in the Senate over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, he gave another $20m to the Senate Democrats’ super PAC.
Like many Democrats, Mr Bloomberg is pro-immigration and socially liberal, a strong defender of gay marriage and abortion rights. He has funded campaigns against climate change and for gun-control. Even so, many progressives do not consider him one of their own.
He is in favour of free trade, which is falling out of fashion on the left as well as the right. He has angered many on the left by defending his mayoral policy of using “stop-and-frisk” police searches, which often targeted black and Hispanic men. He has expressed a desire to cut Social Security. He riled many lefties with his observation that the super wealthy are useful tax payers. He is friendlier to big business than the progressive wing of the party would like. In September he criticised a plan by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to break up Wall Street banks. He also appears to have unfashionable misgivings about the #MeToo movement. While expressing concern about allegations of sexual misconduct he wondered out loud about the veracity of those concerning Charlie Rose, a disgraced TV anchor. There is also a question of whether Democrats should put their trust in a man who has changed his party registration three times.
The activist left of the party would certainly rally against him. But that does not rule out his chances. When push comes to shove, the Democrats will probably nominate whomever they think has the best chance of beating Mr Trump. And with that in mind Mr Bloomberg has an unusual combination of qualities. Though he doesn’t sparkle on the stump, his three terms as mayor of New York have given him a strong governing record. As a self-made billionaire and successful businessman he also matches one of the president’s biggest claims for himself. In fact, he has made far more money than Mr Trump. His habit of self-funding his own campaigns would be a big boon for the party.
Yet would enough Americans want to vote for him? Research suggests that there isn’t much appetite for socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative politicians outside such places as New York City. A study by Lee Drutman, a political scientist, in 2016, exemplifies this. It broke voters down into four quadrants, socially liberal and economically liberal, socially conservative and economically conservative, socially conservative and economically liberal and socially liberal and economically conservative. Mr Drutman suggested the last quadrant, which Mr Bloomberg represents, was pretty much empty.