Brett Graham: Bloomberg 2016?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 - 12:00pm

On Saturday, Jan. 23, news broke that Michael Bloomberg was mulling a run for president. The 73-year-old billionaire and Independent former mayor of New York City had instructed advisers to draw up plans for a campaign. By the following Monday morning, however, his possible campaign had been pronounced dead by thousands. Not by ballots or polls, or any sort of popular voice, but by likes, comments and retweets.

Almost immediately, editorials flooded into the news cycle, questioning his chances and declaring him the 2016 equivalent of Ralph Nader. But why? In a race that features intensely polarizing candidates and a profound divide between party insiders and “anti-establishment” candidates, Bloomberg has the potential to capture the ideological middle. It may not be apparent, but as party-faithfuls in Iowa and New Hampshire embrace hyper-conservative rhetoric on the right and populist progressivism on the left, there are many voters who are not comfortable voting for a Donald Trump or a Bernie Sanders.

Mayor Bloomberg has proven successful in both the public and private sectors. Relatively popular during his tenure in the Big Apple, he led the fight to reform public schools (with an 18 percent increase in high school graduation rates within five years of his taking office). He fought to reduce greenhouse gases, improved the city’s transportation system and helped reduce crime rates. If he could do to the country what he did to New York City, he would be one of the best presidents in modern history. Being socially liberal and fiscally conservative, Bloomberg is both pro-abortion rights and pro-immigration reform. So why, exactly, is he plagued by articles titled “No way, no how” and “Why Michael Bloomberg for president makes no sense”?

In this age of round-the-clock coverage and constant activity on social media, this new brand of article seems to dominate the news. Journalists, for the sake of ease and click-bait value, forego declarative statements and title their articles with a question, opening up discussion often without taking on the responsibility of answering it. From “Is Hillary Clinton more electable than Bernie Sanders?” to “Can Establishment Candidate Rubio Still Win for the GOP?,” articles lazily disregard an old adage in journalism — any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no. Otherwise, they’d be titled “Hillary Clinton is more electable than Bernie Sanders” and “Establishment Candidate Rubio Can Win for the GOP.” By framing these articles as questions, seeds of doubt are planted from the outset. Readers can draw conclusions without getting past the title — it happened nine months ago with Bernie Sanders and it’s happening once again with Michael Bloomberg.

Days later, these sentiments were echoed by polls that placed Bloomberg at around 9 percent in races against Republican and Democratic frontrunners. In this way, articles and the journalists who write them appear impartial and unbiased — but Americans’ obsession with polls is misleading at best and downright corruptive at worst. Check the poll numbers on Bernie Sanders during his campaign’s early stages. He was referred to as the Ron Paul of the left — a quixotic long shot, a fly on the windshield of the Clinton machine. But after surmounting the challenge of low name recognition and carving out his support in the liberal base, Sanders is a household name, and millennials across the country are “feeling the Bern.”

One of the most common themes in the primaries thus far has been electability. Can this candidate succeed outside of the primary states? Sanders clings to polls that say he fares better than Hillary Clinton against the majority of Republicans, while Trump rallies are often highlighted by cherry-picked data that claim he is the outright and indisputable favorite over Cruz and Rubio. But what each and every analysis leaves out is that electability is an entirely subjective and (more importantly) fluid concept.

In 2008, similar remarks about viability were leveled against a young African American senator from Illinois. In 1959, Democrats and journalists worried over the prospect of nominating a Catholic — but all their intel and political acumen were invalidated when John F. Kennedy walloped Hubert Humphrey in widely Protestant West Virginia and went on to win the nomination.

To be fair, if ever there was a presidential election to cover, it would be this one. As easy as it is to blame “the media” for the long list of problems our society faces, put yourself in the shoes of someone who writes for The Huffington Post or hosts a political podcast, or has airtime on Fox News or MSNBC. How could you resist discussing a loudmouthed reality television star feuding with a Canadian-born immigration crusader, or a fiery progressive with a Brooklyn accent challenging a former first lady? This election has been political theater at its best.

When I read the articles that explained why Michael Bloomberg has no shot at moving into the White House in 2017, I didn’t entirely disagree. I think he lacks the charisma and the foreign policy experience. His support of the Stop and Frisk [COPY: usually hyphenated: Stop-and-Frisk] program will complicate his appeal to African Americans and Latino voters. But by no means is he the unfathomable long-shot the media has painted him to be.

Think of how many decisions have been made for the entire election season before the Iowa caucuses. Candidates have been pronounced underdogs, frontrunners, dead in the water or building momentum. All without a single vote cast. So, at least in the case of Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign, I’m not quite ready to accept the foregone conclusions.

Brett Graham can be reached at