How Palin Helps Bloomberg

Wasilla's finest may be dominating the headlines today. But by 2012, the country may be sick of base politics and ready for an independent. Mark McKinnon makes the case for Mike Bloomberg in 2012.

11.17.09 11:51 PM ET

If Sarah Palin dominates Republican politics for the next two years the way she’s going to for the next couple of weeks, there may be a certain big-city mayor smiling somewhere. And a third party brewing.

I don’t buy the argument that there can’t be a successful independent candidacy for the presidency of the United States. People who say it can’t happen are many of the same people who said we’d never elect an African American.

Of course it could happen. All it would take is the right combination of mood, message, messenger, and money. The electoral mood has to be right—meaning really bad and really mad. The message has to be right—meaning a call for change. The messenger has to be right—meaning different, but credible. And he or she has to have money—a lot of it.

The prospective field of 2012 Republican candidates at the moment doesn’t appear to have anyone who is going to excite independent voters.

The mood in 2008 was very similar to 1992, when Ross Perot mounted his third-party bid. If Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton had been nominated, they would have been viewed as establishment candidates and it would have created an opening for a third-party candidacy. And Michael Bloomberg was preparing to step and fill the vacuum.

Alas, two candidates who represented change in their respective parties won the nomination, and the door closed for Bloomberg. And now he’s gone on to be elected to an unprecedented third term in New York where he is being hailed as the greatest mayor since Fiorello LaGuardia.

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Conventional wisdom would have us believe that was the last best chance to create a viable third party for the foreseeable future. But, while perfect conditions for third-party storms seemingly only stir up every 20 years or so, 2012 has some of the telltale signs. It’s hard to imagine how Obama has easy victories on the economy or in Afghanistan, not to mention all the other difficult issues on his plate. If we’re still in Afghanistan when the next presidential election rolls around, a big part of his base will be unhappy and unmotivated. And if the economy isn’t doing well (few economists expect a big turnaround anytime soon), independents will be unhappy.

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Right now, the Republican brand is badly damaged. Only about 20 percent of Americans in recent polling self-identified with the Grand Old Party. Things could certainly change, but the prospective field of 2012 Republican candidates at the moment doesn’t appear to have anyone who is going to excite independent voters. Tim Pawlenty keeps tacking to the right, imitating Mitt Romney circa 2008. And now Sarah Palin is sucking up all the oxygen 24/7, firing up the base but turning off independents.

That should be good news for the Democrats. But they’re in a free fall as well; shockingly, in some recent polls more voters prefer a generic Republican to a Democrat. The only bloc growing in size and strength in politics these days is independents.

Drum roll. Enter Mike Bloomberg: tanned, rested, $16 billion flush, term limited—and bored.

Voters and the media are rightly skeptical of leadership claims these days. But it’s hard to argue with Bloomberg’s record of taking on some the toughest issues in the toughest city in America and making eye-popping progress:

• He managed the city through worst economic crisis in half a century.
• He retained 400,000 jobs during the global recession.
• He’s made government work for people with innovations like 311, the civic service which answers calls in over 150 languages.
• He took on the unions, won control of the schools, reformed the public-school system, dramatically improved test scores and launched the largest school construction program in the city’s history.
• During his tenure, the graduation rate for New York City high-schoolers has increased by 15 percent.
• The school crime rate has dropped by 44 percent.
• The city’s crime rate is down 30 percent, and race relations have dramatically improved.

The bottom line: Mike Bloomberg gets results. He’s pragmatic, smart, a consensus builder, a true centrist. (Did we mention he’s worth $16 billion and now ranked the eighth wealthiest man in America? Bloomberg spent $100 million of his own money in this last mayor’s race. So he’d probably hardly flinch to match the $1 billion table stakes for a presidential contest in 2012.)

In a couple of years, voters may be looking for experience—looking for someone with a proven track record of bringing people together under tough circumstances. Looking for someone who really understands economics and the private sector. Looking for an adult. Looking for someone who can capture the moment, communicate a clear message and spend enough money to compete with the major parties.

In 2012, voters could be looking for Michael Bloomberg.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.