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Bloomberg: The angel of the center

In June 2015, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and noted centrist Thomas Friedman penned an article titled “My choice for President? None of the above,” in which he criticized the presidential candidates of the two major parties.

“Centrism,” he claimed, “may rarely inspire,” but “it has a lot better chance at prolonging the American Dream than either party alone.”

Well, centrists may have found their candidate in former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Freed from the ideological pledges of both parties, Bloomberg can garnish the backing of deficit hawks and old-guard conservatives fed up with the Donald Trump-Ted Cruz populist stranglehold on the GOP, while appealing to intellectuals who want to vote for modest, compromising fiscal conservatives but are troubled by right-wing social policies.

As mayor, Bloomberg turned New York City’s $6 billion deficit into a $3 billion surplus, but taxes are not an anathema to him like they are for many conservatives today; he once called taxes a “necessary evil” and supported modest tax increases to balance the city budget. He also takes the issue of climate change seriously, unlike his Republican counterparts, without striking the “sky is falling” tone of Bernie Sanders.

American presidential elections usually involve candidates appealing to their bases to fire up activists in primaries, only to “race to the middle” in the general election to reassure moderates they can reconcile passion with reality. Without a primary battle, Bloomberg will not have to cater to the far left or far right and can make a clear, consistent pitch to America’s moderates and centrists.

Because he does not have to commit to not raising taxes or run a jingoistic campaign promising to “carpet bomb” our enemies, Bloomberg does not face the issue of flip-flopping or even changing his tone. His two elections as a Republican and ultimately as an Independent in New York City, which has not voted for a Republican for president since Coolidge in 1924, speak to his popularity.

Bloomberg is also poised to run as the sensible, anti-revolutionary candidate in an election marked by its vitriol and fiery passion. Trump has run a campaign by rallying the “silent majority” and fear-mongering, while Sanders has run one even more blatantly pugnacious, starting a “revolution” against a “billionaire class.” Bloomberg, a billionaire himself, once retorted “spare me” to such political posturing in 2013, that time with respect to the effects of fiscal sequestration, claiming the Obama administration had gone too far in scaring people about the cuts.

Despite the social media storm he has created, it remains unclear if Bloomberg will pull the trigger. He has explored presidential runs in 2008 and 2012, balking both times and supporting Barack Obama. For centrists, if 2016 is indeed the “revolution” the hard-line candidates suggest, hopefully Bloomberg will do something truly revolutionary and throw his name in the ring.

Alex Martin, from Princeton, New Jersey, is a freshman studying public policy at Duke. He is a member of the Duke Political Union.


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