Michael Bloomberg’s decision to enter the Democratic Primary reveals a lot about the state of the two party system that has dominated American politics for over 150 years. Bloomberg has been an outspoken opponent of President Donald Trump and understands that the President is dishonest, unethical and an existential threat to the future of the US and American democracy. Bloomberg also served three terms as mayor of New York and has amassed a personal fortune of roughly $60 billion. That last point is the only reason anybody is giving his longshot presidential bid any thought at all.
Bloomberg is a lot of things, self-made billionaire, dedicated philanthropist and former mayor of the country’s biggest city. There also a number of things he is not-a progressive or a Democrat. As mayor Bloomberg fiercely defended the racist stop and frisk policy, but finally, and unconvincingly, apologized for that a few weeks ago. Similarly, he was first elected mayor as a Republican in 2001 and only rejoined the Democratic Party in 2018.
for michael Bloomberg, or any other rational but conservative person, the Republican Party is no longer a viable home
The question this raises is why Bloomberg to chosen to run as a Democrat. At first glance the answer is obvious. Trump will be renominated by the Republican Party, so the only way to replace him is to run for the Democratic nomination. However, Bloomberg’s candidacy is more of a statement candidacy than a genuine bid to be President as he has little or no chance of winning the Democratic nomination. He would have even longer odds of winning the Republican nomination, but he is a better fit for that party and could badly damage Trump by getting even 20-30 percent of the primary vote in many states. Bloomberg’s policies of strong action on guns and the climate while fighting to keep taxes low and taking no strong positions in support of racial justice or in addressing problems of systemic racism don’t fit in well with either party, but would certainly get a lot of attention from pro-business Republicans who believe the Democrats are dangerous socialists, but have had enough of the corruption, incompetence and sleaziness of the Trump administration.
The reason this will not happen is that for Bloomberg, or any other rational but conservative person, the Republican Party is no longer a viable home. A Republican Party that was interested in competing in, and winning, elections would welcome people like Bloomberg, although not necessarily the primary challenge to a sitting president. Moreover, any Republican operative or strategist capable of doing long division can recognize that if the GOP continues to push away people of color, non-Christians, LGBT people and economic conservatives who happen to think climate change is real, they will have rather dim chances of winning the support of a majority of Americans for the foreseeable future.
By flaunting the undemocratic nature of the Constitution and recognizing that is the only way they can remain in power, the Republican Party leadership has further strained both the Constitution and the political and social fabric of the country more generally
Today this argument is irrelevant because the Republican Party is no longer concerned with winning elections or building national coalitions. Rather, they have embraced the role of a minority party that can stay in power because of quirks in the American Constitution that make it possible for minority parties, if they are positioned the right way geographically, to hold political power. Because the Republican base is disproportionally concentrated in small states that are overrepresented in the electoral college and the senate, the GOP does not need to win the support of a majority of Americans to govern. For example, most analysists agree that even though Trump may get reelected, he has a much smaller chance winning the popular vote. Similarly, the Republicans have been able to control the senate despite losing a majority of the votes cast for that body.
Because they have chosen simply to exploit the least democratic elements of the Constitution, the Republicans have no incentive to broaden their party’s appeal or expand that appeal beyond their base. Therefore, there is no reason why the most deluded, angry and narrow parts of the base cannot take over the party-and that is exactly what has happened. The result of this is that a primary opponent to Trump, even somebody with the wealth and resume of Bloomberg, would not only lose, but would be subject to the attacks, threats and slander that is now the way the Republicans respond to all perceived threats to Trump’s power.
By flaunting the undemocratic nature of the Constitution and recognizing that is the only way they can remain in power, the Republican Party leadership has further strained both the Constitution and the political and social fabric of the country more generally. A party consistently elected by a radical political minority that has ignored the norms, and in many cases laws, that have ensured stability in the American political system for many decades, is a great threat to that stability. In that context, Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for the Democratic nomination, which will likely shatter all records for dollars per delegate, seems like a minor issue, but it demonstrates that the two party system is now cleaved not by ideology but by a basic belief in democracy.
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