Would a Bloomberg run break a fractious two-party system?

Maybe it’s best the Michigan presidential primary election is next Tuesday, a week after today’s “Super Tuesday,” when voters in 13 states make their pick among the five remaining Republican and two Democratic candidates.

By the time our votes are counted, the Michigan results will likely be irrelevant to the nomination contest for both political parties. It’s just a semi-informed guess at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton wind up as their party’s nominees.

Understanding why gets us to consider where the fractured state of our political system has got us.
On the Republican side, we now have essentially three faction leaders: The purists, backing Ted Cruz; the Establishmentarians, pulling for Marco Rubio. And the Pissed Off, passionate for their guy, Donald Trump. Each of these factions is “mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive”, as my old philosophy tutor used to put it. The fact that the GOP has now mutated into a three-headed monster goes a long way to understand the revolution that’s now tearing apart the American political system.

As to the Democrats, let’s assume Hillary Clinton is pretty much like a shoo-in, although even her supporters have a hard time warming up to her unlovable affect and long political history that comes across about as exciting as last week’s mashed potatoes. Bernie Sanders himself admits it “will take a revolution” for his mostly young and college-educated liberal base to win for a Democratic Socialist. But it’s beginning to look as though the moderate establishment that has dominated the Democratic Party for decades is beginning to be pulled to the left, slowly becoming unhitched from our national centrist demography.

Recently, I’ve been asking people I meet who they’d prefer to be president. “Michael Bloomberg,” most reply. The former New York City mayor, who at $40 billion net worth, is wealthy, as distinguished from merely rich. He’s given away to charity almost as much money as Trump is thought to have in total. He’s a self-made businessman, who switched from a Democrat to Republican to be elected mayor of New York City. He is liberal on social policy (pro-choice, anti-gun) and conservative on things like supporting the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy and knowing how the global economy actually works.

If Bloomberg runs, he would help precipitate the unpacking of the Democratic-Republican duopoly that has strangled healthy development of the American political system for decades. His backers say that winning the presidency doesn’t require a majority of votes; just 38 percent in the right states would do. The idea is that Americans, confronted by a political system that seems at once ineffectual, hyper-partisan and lacking the capacity to govern the country, would flock to a Bloomberg-defined middle ground.

I hear these days rumors of a possible Clinton-Bloomberg unity ticket. My instinct is that general citizen dissatisfaction with existing political alternatives is driving interest in what would be in practice a very complicated thing to pull off.

It’s here that Flint comes in.

Reading the stream of astonishingly self-serving and disconnected emails that have come out, especially in Bridge magazine’s comprehensive timeline of the debacle, I can’t but think that Flint is the canary in the coal mine that marks the slow deterioration of a political system that is showing itself incapable of governing our country effectively or providing the necessities of life to our citizens.

We live in a regulatory environment. But regulation these days has little to do with making sure things actually get done on the ground, preferring instead “compliance”, ticking off the appropriate boxes on the bureaucratic form.

We live in a resource constrained environment. But a politics focused primarily on keeping taxes low risks tolerating communities where providing public goods as simple as safe drinking water is in doubt.
We live in a democracy, but these days people in Flint don’t trust anybody – local, state or federal bureaucracies or political leaders. Historians point out that the wholesale withdrawal of trust by the governed is the usual symptom preceding upheaval.

The Center for Michigan’s public outreach program that kicks off later this month will ask people gathered in small community conversations whether they trust our political and policy systems in Michigan today and, if not, what can be done about it. The idea is to bring thousands of citizens together to reflect on what our political system has come to and what needs to be done to improve things.

Should be a bunch of exciting – and revealing – conversations.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 03/01/2016 - 9:42am
Nothing to disagree with here. While it is often difficult to affix a root cause to a problem, it is tempting to cite as a major contributory factor the decision by republican leaders to become the Party of NO back in 2008. The level of gridlock that ensued, and the lack of progress in so many vital areas may have provided a final push into the present level of chaos. The decision to block a Supreme Court appointment is just another symptom. When Pres.Trump nominates David Duke, we will see who is entertained. Or is this only in a parallel universe?
Carl Ver Beek
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 9:45am
John Kasich is ignored in this essay. Too many media folks do that as if he does not exist. He is the best qualified candidate but continues to be ignored by the media and Phil, apparently because he lacks charisma. If the established GOP wants to stop Trump it better get busy behind Kasich ! The Bloomberg idea is a long shot and would create a long period of uncertain politics.
Lola Johnson
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 9:55am
Kasich is only better compared to Cruz, Rubio and Trump. He talks like an adult, and that is such a comfort. However, I also remember Kasich in congress, as Newt's buddy, ultraconservative and arrogant. We've watched as voting laws, abortion laws and others in Ohio have grown more restrictive under his watch. So he accepted Medicaid expansion. Big deal. It was just a way to bring more money into Ohio. I think John Kasich, too, is far too conservative for the country. But at least he's not crazy. I don't like him, but he doesn't frighten me as Cruz does.
Robert S
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 10:44am
Carl, You are correct -- John Katich -- is the best qualified candidate in both parties. I am tired of seeing US Senators run for the Presidency. They only bring as qualifications what they did before they got elected to the Senate. Being in the Senate does absolutely nothing to qualify you for being president today. As for Donald Trump, the guy is a boor and totally unqualified to be our President. The media has paid too, too much attention to his outrageous behavior.
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 10:17am
I'm voting for Kasich next week. I've got some gripes but overall I don't feel I need a savior, a preacher or a revolutionary.I think the canary in the coal mine is spot on. We've bought into the no tax, no time until our country is turning to trash. Does anyone ignore their property, home, car and expect it to stay in good condition?
Tom Cook
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 10:41am
I think part of the solution to our mess, especially as you have explained it in Flint, is to rebuild the capacity and practice of local government: non-partisan problem solving. People need to be able to believe that electing neighbors, or at least real people they can meet with and talk to, will lead to a better quality of life. This requires both some civic lessons, some assistance for local officials, and some changes in state law and increase revenue sharing so that school districts, cities, townships, and counties can actually address some of their needs. Stronger local democracy won't solve all our governance problems, but it might be a start. I look forward to the local community conversations; thanks for hosting them.
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 2:06pm
I think that there is value in your idea regarding local government as "non-partisan problem solving" by those we consider neighbors. When I lived in the small town of Berkley, I often saw that in action. Yes, there was disagreement at times. But in such a small town, those willing to shoulder running for mayor or city council, or working on the zoning board, were those who wanted to be genuinely useful to their city and neighbors, and usually had very little in the way of an ax to grind, or agenda to push. But now revenue sharing to the local level has been pretty much dismantled, especially in recent years, putting a terrible burden on local communities. And it seems as if all levels of government above that have lost trust of the people, for good reasons. I personally think Bloomberg has more baggage than is useful, and would keep him from getting things done if elected. And although Kasich looks better than the other Republicans in the clown car, I still don't feel a lot of trust for his policies. And as a woman, his comment last week about women "leaving their kitchens" to support him stopped me cold, and reinforced my feeling there's just a facade over what he REALLY is about. I appreciate Sen. Sanders highlighting a lot of what is wrong today. I appreciate him giving Sec. Clinton a good run in this race. But it scares me spit-less that someone in that Republican clown car could win, so I will vote for Hilary Clinton as the person least likely to get us into worse shape. And hope for the best.
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 10:44am
An interesting perspective regarding this issue is offered by Juan Linz at Yale University. In 1990 he wrote about the potential for instability and possible paralysis in our system of government versus the parliamentary form of government. His point was that in our system we can have two opposing parties control separate parts of the government leading to paralysis and a standoff. Then each branch of the government responds with an abuse of its power. (Sound familiar?) In contrast the parliamentary system has a single party in control of both the legislative and executive branches of government. In the event of a loss of confidence in the government early elections can be called and a new government put in place. According to Linz America's saving grace has been its historical ability to seek and arrive at consensus on middle ground. Today compromise is a profane word and only the extremes have the podium. Our current slate of candidates in either party provides little optimism for any middle ground resolution to our current sad state.
John Roach
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 11:04am
Maybe it took the Flnt water crisis to focus our attention on what government should do. There might be an affordable middle ground if we can begin to identify the "must haves" and separate them from the "nice to haves" as it relates to services each level of government provides. What can government do that must be done that cannot be as efficiently provided any other way? In my view, civic infrastructure fits that definition-- including, perhaps, water. If government takes it on, the officials need to be held accountable and fired when the end result is a failure (even if they "checked all the boxes").
mike mack
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 11:54am
I once had a boss who said: "once all the facts are known, the answer usually reveals itself." In the case of Flint, if the decision to use river water was made prior to having all of the facts, somebody (bodies) should be fired for incompetence. If the decision to use river water was made after all of the facts were known, then somebody (bodies) should go to jail. As for a Bloomberg candidacy, while he might be preferable to Hilary, I think we've already had far too much of politicians in this country who believe they are the smartest people in the room and, therefore, are entitled to impose their own utopian views on our citizens rather than operate in accordance with our founders' vision of the constitutional republic that is the United States.
Jim H
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 12:56pm
Both parties are captive to the east coast ruling class elites, who by the way are all doing just fine in this economy. (Check out the unemployment rates in northern Virginia). No matter which party wins, Goldman-Sachs will still run the Treasury Department, deals will still be made with all the lobbyists, Wall street will continue to do just fine, the debt will continue to rise - and jobs will continue to go to the lowest labor cost market. Trump is simply the current leader of the "peasants with pitchforks" in flyover country that Pat Buchanan so clearly identified decades ago. The GOP is still in denial, and even the Democrats have no idea of how many of their union workers are going to be voting for Trump, not to mention pissed off Bernie supporters who have watched their party establishment stack the deck for Hillary. Hang on to your seatbelts - we are in the midst of a political earthquake - I would not be a bit surprised at a 48-49 state tsunami next November.
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 1:57pm
First a bit of history, political parties nor their candidates are not political/government offices requiring any election. There is no mention of political parties in the constitution. They were conceived and are private “clubs” of individuals sharing a political philosophy and with the objective of putting forward individuals also sharing those views to run for political offices. For whatever reason political parties, I suspect to appear more democratic, along with off-loading the costs of primaries, the parties have ceded any and all once held meaning they had over to various levels of governments. Governments not being in the political party business further devolved the process and definition to the candidates leaving the parties almost meaningless. This brought us the circus of having a candidate trying to amass a bunch of supporters who have no interest in any common philosophy of government, no interest in advancing a philosophy or party after the next election. No surprise, we end up with the uninformative and embarrassing displays as past “debates” have degraded into. You can also blame the constant VOTE VOTE VOTE drum beat we hear regardless of the fact that most voters can’t name the three branches or government or their 2 US Senators! What should be expected? Why is so much money spent on idiotic advertisements? Again, look to the voters, the people buying have reason to expect that they work! If you want to improve the tenor or our political process, strengthen the political parties by cutting them off from the taxpayer funded crazy primary system and become a coherent interest group. The parties themselves need to take a page from the NFL in taking control of their label their brand, the candidates and selection process. We may end up with more parties and or candidates maybe even the end of the parties we know and but so be it.
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 5:45pm
Matt is absolutely right when he says, "The parties themselves need to take a page from the NFL in taking control of their label their brand, the candidates and selection process." Mancur Olson, in his book "The Logic of Collective Action", says that large groups, when they are sufficiently influential tend to be more concerned with the welfare of the community at large. He is right on when he says that parties should 'become a coherent interest group." It is much easier for us as a nation to hold a party accountable than it is an individual Senator or Representative. We made a big mistake when we allowed campaign finance reform to weaken the parties. I suggest that we give every voter a voucher they can use to support their choice for Senator or Representative and President with the stipulation that an amount four times as large be sent to that person's party. The party would then be the principal source of campaign funds for a candidate, and be in a position to offer the electorate a coherent governing philosophy. Strong national parties would be more likely to promote the interest of the country a whole, rather than the particular interests of states or regions. As Matt says, if the parties had "control of their label their brand, the candidates and selection process, the electorate could make a judgment about the wisdom of a party's philosophy and hold that party responsible come the next election.
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 6:50pm
I share Matt's opinion of the average voter. Winston Churchill said that the strongest criticism of democracy is to talk with the average voter for five minutes.
William C. Plumpe
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 3:22pm
Not a bad idea---Bloomberg as the "anti-Trump"---intelligent, reasonable, not a bully and a moderate while also being a billionaire or so close it doesn't matter. But that might be too difficult for most Americans to swallow after the arrogance, pettiness, bluster and schoolyard semantics of the Donald. I'd vote for Donald Duck for President before I'd vote for Donald Trump for President. Besides Donald Duck is better looking, a good actor not a ham, keeps his hair neat and without incident---and you know when he's joking.
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 5:52pm
Lots of anger, lots of comments, but until we do away with gerrymandering we will continue to get more of the same. The revolution begins when WE select the leaders at the local level, not when they get to chose who they will represent..
Rogelio Landin
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 7:36pm
There is an essential element not mentioned that is critical to and for fueling our political system, the vote. We start here. If everyone voted, and I do mean everyone, things would be very different. The one thing that no one is talking about is the 2020 census. Whoever wins this year (at every level) will be driving the process by which we account for our population and more important how they will be represented. That means that this election isn't for the next four years, it's for the next fourteen years. The philosophy based issues are in many ways a smoke screen for what this (and every) election is all about, control. Unfortunately, everything else becomes secondary. To that end, we should support President Obama's call for mandatory voting. Everything else will follow.
Wed, 03/02/2016 - 2:30am
Rather than look at the current political/government environment as deterioration, consider it as transition. Where people had little concern for results and were willingly deferred/trusted to others for ideas and actions, this can be the change to results matter and trusted is to be earned. Such transitions are emotional because tears away comfort and creates doubt. Such a change produces confusion and emotional upheaval in the established systems and especially with in the people who have long used the status quo. We should be asking why this situation has happen, what the root causes are, and how do we address them rather than wring our hands. The Flint water debacle, it isn’t a cause it is a symptom. If we watch the news our frustration in Michigan is happening across the country. I hope the Center isn’t considering using the government approach of forcing people’s opinions into predefined ‘boxes’ for the ‘community conversation.’ I am afraid that it will acting just as the government does, making people’s answers be the people doing the survey expect them to answer. The Center may consider using open ended question so it will encourage people to talk and over perspectives and ideas [something the government and politicians never seem to want to do].
Barry Visel
Wed, 03/02/2016 - 7:57am
Taxes do not support public water systems...water budgets are separate from the general fund and are supported by user fees. When I lived in Ft Wayne my water bill went to a private company which owned and ran the system. Why does our government pay for political parties to have primary votes?...those parties should reimburse the cost. I have never understood this. There are other parties...Libertarians come to mind...but you wouldn't't know it from listening from the mainstream media, or even the sidestream media like Bridge. And, what about Romney as an alternative? How about letting the market provide "the necessities of life" rather than being dependent on government? It's our own darn fault...if we let government do things for us we have nothing to complain about. I need the "Inbetween" party...that's the one that doesn't want more of my taxes (like the D's), and doesn't want to legislate my beliefs (like the R's). So, I'm back to the Libertarians...could you please give them and the other parties that may be out there some ink?
Mike R
Wed, 03/02/2016 - 11:35am
I want to compliment all of the above contributors for their high tone and cogent thoughts. This discussion is a demonstration of what informed, courteous, thoughtful discourse should be. And precisely NOT what the televised "debates", and most political arguments nowadays, have been.
Thu, 03/03/2016 - 11:03am
"But it’s beginning to look as though the moderate establishment that has dominated the Democratic Party for decades is beginning to be pulled to the left, slowly becoming unhitched from our national centrist demography" Are you kidding me? Centrist? Another war in Syria (a forever war against "terror"). Obscene military spending when there is NO ONE threatening us who is militarily capable of defeating us. Terrorism is a Police/Intelligence matter, the military can't find and fight ideology. More tax cuts for the rich, more corporate welfare, less income for Joe Average and more debt...Trump/Clinton...I will not vote for any more corporate/elite TV spokes-models. If Clinton wins Dem nod, I will vote Green Party. The Press has been woefully horrible at reporting issues and policy positions. Horse race coverage and breathless video clips (free advertising) of Trump are not journalism. There are 50 states and Clinton winning in the south? Who cares, they will all vote GOP in November. Sanders is still very much a player. Don't become so intellectually lazy that you parrot the corporate media talking points. You are a better journalist than that. Government is failing because that is EXACTLY what the elites and corporate money changers demand for their 30 pieces of silver. Voter participation is abysmal, this is their plan. Term limits are a spear into the chest of Democracy. Michigan citizens of ALL political stripes need to wake up and VOTE!
Fri, 03/04/2016 - 12:38am
This might be the year for a third party but please NO Bloomberg. Bloomberg would increase the rural/urban divide. He would never be supported by the rural states because of his gun stance and invasive food politics. If I want a large pop, I'm an adult at my ideal weight and am able to decide what size diet coke I want without Bloomberg. Yuk! I'd vote Trump first.
Tue, 03/15/2016 - 7:52pm
Agree. Trump is the reality show bully that the MSM powered to the top news pinnacle. This advantage eliminated any level playing field. Trump has scored nearly $2 billion in free media coverage .................... Mr. Trump earned $400 million worth of free media last month, about what John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential campaign. Paul Senatori, mediaQuant’s chief analytics officer, says that Mr. Trump “has no weakness in any of the media segments” — in other words, he is strong in every type of earned media, from television to Twitter. Over the course of the campaign, he has earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history. It is also twice the estimated $746 million that Hillary Clinton, the next best at earning media, took in. Senator Bernie Sanders has earned more media than any of the Republicans except Mr. Trump. The figures were compiled by mediaQuant based on ad rates for various types of media. This graphic prepared by the NY Times using data from mediaQuant and SMG Delta. It shows how Trump has dominated all of his rivals in both parties with earned media coverage. (Note: paid advertising figures are not directly comparable but still give an idea of relative spending among candidates.):http://hotair.com/archives/2016/03/15/trumps-earned-media-dominance/