The only way this horrible campaign can end for conservative anti-Trumpers, I think, is with a third-party candidacy that’s even more irritating than Trump’s is. It’d be like a twist at the end of an especially creepy Twilight Zone episode, where a guy sells his soul to the devil for another choice besides Trump and Hillary — and it turns out to be Mike Bloomberg. “Submitted for your approval: A man who’ll never drink more than 12 ounces of soda in one sitting again. A lesson in being careful what you wish for … in the Twilight Zone.”
The million-dollar (well, billion-dollar) question: Who does Bloomberg hurt more? As it turns out, Hillary. Without him in the race, Hillary narrowly leads Trump, 44/42. Even better news for Trump fans is that Trump does better against Hillary in a three-way race than either Cruz or Rubio does. Against Cruz, Hillary leads 38/34/11; against Rubio, it’s 38/33/10. That’s partly a function of the fact that Cruz and Rubio are lesser known to Americans than Trump is, but if you’re looking for evidence that he’ll give her a tougher race by bringing in heterodox Democrats and independents than a more dogmatic right-winger will, there you go.
That said, this is a surprisingly encouraging poll for Bloomy. Don’t be daunted by the fact that he’s nearly 25 points behind. He’s already in double digits without having spent a penny promoting himself, and both Trump and Hillary are north of 50 percent on unfavorability. Bloomberg’s overall favorable rating is 30/26, which leaves plenty of room to grow. (In fact, he’s +13 among Democrats compared to -9 among Republicans, further proof that he’s a bigger threat to Hillary than to Trump.) If he spent $250 million in ads, say, to introduce himself to American voters, how long would it be before he’s polling above 20 percent with Trump and Hillary each in the low 30s? That’s what political junkies would call “striking distance.” He’s played this game successfully before too on a smaller scale. In 2001, as a political novice and newly minted Republican, he dropped $50 million in Democratic New York City to become mayor in an upset. Eight years later, with his poll numbers sagging, he spent $102 million to narrowly secure reelection as an independent. Trump has been oddly reluctant to dig deep into his wallet to destroy the opposition. Bloomberg wouldn’t be. The question, really, is whether there’s any chance that he could end up with the most electoral votes in a three-way race. The big blue states will go for Hillary — with the possible exception of New York. The big red ones will go for Trump. Are there enough purples to give Bloomberg a lead?
Here’s an outside-the-box third-party idea for you, and I’m not just saying this because I’m the Internet’s premier Romney-trollblogger: What if Mitt got in this summer as an independent alternative to Trump and Hillary? Finally he could be the right-leaning centrist he’s always been instead of the “severely conservative” poseur he’s had to be in the past. His name recognition is already sky high nationally after 2012 so he wouldn’t need to spend as much as Bloomberg would to get voters to notice him. He’d undoubtedly help Hillary by pulling votes from Trump, but maybe anti-Trumpers will have reached a point come June or July where they think it’s more important to start setting up an alternative to a Trump-dominated GOP than to keep Clinton out of the White House, especially if the alternative is President Trump. Romney could even argue, mostly but not entirely implausibly, that he stands a chance of winning the election outright by convincing Republican voters this fall to unite behind him instead of the nominee Trump. Lots of political insiders seem to think it’s a fait accompli that there’ll be a third-party candidate if Trump and Hillary emerge this summer, but a third-party candidate will only matter if he’s a brand name. How many other viable brand names are there in national politics right now who aren’t running this year apart from Romney?