Alex Massie

Palin and the Presidency Cont

Text settings

Sure, Pete, Palin says she will run for the Presidency "if there's nobody else to do it." But you know what: there are other people to do it! She'll run anyway. Then she'll lose (probably!) and perhaps she won't sell as many magazines or drive as much blog traffic as she does now.

As for the Heilemann article positing Mayor Bloomberg splitting the vote and permitting Palin to become President on a mere plurality of the vote, well, I'm surprised that as sage a commentator as Gideon Rachman finds it "frighteningly plausible". (Say what you will about Karl Rove but he's more interested in winning than ideology or policy which may explain why he's become so hostile to Palin. That, of course, is a compliment to her too.)

To be fair, Heilemann explains why - as this blog has long maintained - Palin will run for the Presidency and makes a good argument that she might win the Republican nomination. (I'd bet against that happening but it's not impossible.) Where it all goes wrong, however, is when Heilemann explores a Bloomberg candidacy. True Heilemann's piece is unusual in as much as it suggests this might be a terrible mistake (SOP in these matters is to pine wistfully for a Heroic Third Man to rescue America). Nevertheless, for the sake of the game, let's consider how he thinks it could go down:

To get Rumsfeldian for a sec, the combination of known unknowns and unknown unknowns is enough to make your head spin. But there are also a handful of known knowns: that Bloomberg’s team, probably led by Sheekey and Wolfson, would be as tough, savvy, and technologically sophisticated as any ever assembled; that the mayor, regardless of being on the ballot in 50 states, would target more like half of them where his prospects were brightest; and that he would spend more than $1 billion and maybe upward of $3 billion.

One scenario, most likely if the economy suffers a double-dip recession, is that the nation would be so desperate for capable economic management that Bloomberg would be able to overcome his vulnerabilities—his short-Jewish-unmarried-plutocratness—and find himself deposited in the Oval Office.

Another scenario, the likeliest, is that Bloomberg’s entry would secure the reelection of Obama. “There’s enough solid Republicans that even Palin gets between 26 and 30 percent of the vote,” forecasts Dowd. “And there’s enough solid Democrats that, depending on the economy, Obama gets 40 to 42 percent. That leaves Bloomberg with between 28 and 34 percent, which just isn’t enough.”

But there is a third scenario, one that involves a more granular kind of analysis-cum-speculation. By the accounts of strategists in both parties, Bloomberg—especially with the help of his billions—would stand a reasonable chance of carrying New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, and California. Combine that with a strong-enough showing in a few other places in the industrial Northeast to deny Obama those states, and with Palin holding the fire-engine-red states of the South, and the president might find himself short of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.

Assuming you still remember the basics from American Government 101, you know what would happen next: The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives—which, after November 2, is likely to be controlled by the Republicans. The result: Hello, President Palin!

You will agree that this is all fine, entertaining crystal-ball stuff. Can $1bn get you the Presidency? I don't know. Can it even get you on the ballot in all 50 states? More to the point, even allowing for a non-existent or a jobless recovery how do you find 270 electoral college votes for Mike Bloomberg? I don't see them and while one must make allowances for politicians' vanity I'd be surprised if Bloomberg can find that map either.

It's Heilemann's third scenario, however, which is most mischievous. Even with his money, can he really win New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and California? Not necessarily. Any Democrat voting for Bloomberg in those states will do so knowing that their vote, in these strange circumstances, is really a vote for Palin. Bloomberg's constituency - in as much as he has one - is the people who think Thomas Friedman should be Secretary of State. This is not the best way to build an election winning coalition.

Anyway, as Jonathan Bernstein points out it's close to an Iron Law that being Mayor of New York City spells doom on the national level. Bloomberg's been endorsing centrist candidates (from both parties) this year but it's hard to see how his entry into a Presidential race could advance centrism. More likely, it drives both Democrats and Republicans to their base voters and, consequently, has almost the opposite of Bloomberg's presumed ambition. Rather than drawing the country together, it could become still more polarised than is currently the case.

In any case, the very things that might in other times make a Bloomberg candidacy less fanciful - an appalling economy, a faltering Empire, a crippling sense of trepidation about the future at home and abroad - are precisely those that, in the current climate, encourage the extremes. If 2012 is 2010 on steroids then sweet and reasonable centrism (ie, "evidence-based elitism"!) does not seem likely to prevail.

So, yes, Palin should be treated seriously (and, actually, as a political tactician she's shown that she deserves to be taken seriously) but if she's going to win the White House she's going to need to do so on her own merits, not because Mike Bloomberg decides, wittingly or not, to do her a favour.

But, yeah, it's going to be the economy, silly. Other things too, but mainly that.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleInternational