Ezra Klein and everybody else commenting on the newly-hatched whispering campaign to elect Mike Bloomberg as an independent candidate for President are missing the point. All the big-name political blogs commenting on this story are mocking the cabal of old, mostly male, irrelevant white people pushing for an independent “end the gridlock” candidate who will not, in fact, end the gridlock in any way, and that’s definitely a fair comment, but that assumes that the motivations behind this quixotic idea are genuine.
They aren’t. Think about it for a second: if you’re really, really worried about gridlock in Washington? There are already candidates campaigning for increased bipartisanship. In fact, there’s one major candidate per party: Barack Obama for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republicans. The old irrelevant white people, were they truly determined to end partisan gridlock, have their choice of candidate already. However, what David Broder won’t say in public is that Obama is too progressive a candidate for their tastes (even though he’s been courting their nonexistent voting bloc by making threatening noises about Social Security and admonishing John Edwards for being too “angry” a candidate), and that they think McCain will have trouble winning the primary, let alone the election. (Of course it’s not about policy. Mike Bloomberg’s differences in policy from John McCain are miniscule.)
However, an independent Presidential campaign has the potential to peel off more votes from the Democratic candidate than the Republican one. This isn’t Ross Perot in 1992 or 1996, where the independent campaign grabbed votes about roughly equally from the Democrats and Republicans; this is an electoral climate where independent voters are breaking Democratic in large numbers and just aren’t going to vote for any Republican period, no matter how cute and fuzzy he might end up being. But those same independent voters might vote for a perceived nonpartisan independent candidate, campaigning on wishes and dreams, not least because many independent voters are idiots. And that doesn’t swing the election for the Republican party – you know, the party most of these people always support either implicitly or explicitly – but it transforms a potential rout into a competitive race, and that’s all they want.
(Tack on “so they can steal it convincingly” arguments if you feel so inclined.)