A billionaire New Yorker who has occupied the spotlight for the past decade could be giving in to his presidential aspirations. But his name is not Donald Trump. In fact, he could not be more different. This billionaire is Michael Bloomberg, the founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P. and former three-term Mayor of New York City. Although Ted Cruz flung the insult at Trump, Bloomberg more accurately embodies the “New York values” that Cruz detests.
Bloomberg is an enigma on the modern American political landscape. He was a Democrat before 2001, but became a Republican for his first two terms as Mayor. To run for a third term, Bloomberg left the Republican Party and became an Independent, and he is still unaffiliated. Much like Trump, Bloomberg’s policy positions do not entirely conform one of the two major political parties. Simply put, Bloomberg is a social liberal and fiscal conservative. A product of the city that he presided over for three terms, Bloomberg looks like a Democrat with respect to social issues, but supports Wall Street and large corporations’ role in the economy.
Despite their wealth and residence, Trump and Bloomberg, outsiders to party structure and politics, represent vastly different frustrations with the American political system. Trump captivates large crowds in rural America where populism is at its strongest. Many are frustrated with their lack of perceived effect on national politics, even when their supported policies are highly popular. Trump is the embodiment of the dissatisfaction that many Americans feel—that the America they know is slipping away. Just look to his campaign slogan: “Make American Great Again.” Aside from this vague promise, Trump’s stated polices reflect this, namely trade protectionism and immigration restrictions.
By contrast, Bloomberg is the embodiment of the elites and establishment trying to reassert control on American politics. With polarization at its highest levels in recent years, moderates in both parties are increasingly unelectable. In both the Republican and Democratic primaries, candidates from farther right and left respectively are receiving disproportionate support than their more moderate counterparts. A Bloomberg presidential candidacy would likely seek to exploit the elites’ need for an “establishment” candidate if neither party nominates one.
Both men have the potential to use their enormous personal wealth to subvert traditional party politics, but for largely different reasons. Trump wants to ride the wave of populism that has only increased since the election of Barack Obama, while Bloomberg wants to return Washington to the establishment-approved political center. Most Americans probably want somewhere in-between.