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It is increasingly plausible (certainly not certain) that the presidential campaign will be between the outcasts of each party: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. In that event, it is also plausible that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will jump in as an independent. There is some irony that the independent would be someone who was both Republican and Democrat in his past political life, while Trump only recently declared himself a Republican, and Sanders never was a Democrat.

Sanders Bloomberg Trump

Bernie vs. [Michael] vs. Donald?—John Peeler

Trump has consistently led GOP polls for months, and just had a blowout win in New Hampshire. Notwithstanding continuing skepticism toward him from both Christian conservatives and the party’s Washington establishment, one would have to conclude that it is his race to lose now. The question then is how well he can hold together the increasingly fractious elements of the GOP coalition.

For the hard-right conservatives who are the party’s activist base, his nativist, nationalist, authoritarian appeal may outweigh the obvious fact that he doesn’t necessarily believe any of this stuff: like the salesman he is, he knows his customers and says what they want to hear. Trump proclaims on national television what white working class men will only say in the semi-privacy of their neighborhood bar, after a few beers.

Trump’s urban secularism, with only the barest nod to his Presbyterian upbringing, may be too much for some conservative evangelicals, who are the natural base for Ted Cruz.

There is some irony that the independent would be someone who was both Republican and Democrat in his past political life, while Trump only recently declared himself a Republican, and Sanders never was a Democrat.

His rival candidates will scarcely be enthusiastic about supporting someone who routinely and brutally insults them. The Washington establishment (especially the congressional leadership) may marginally prefer Trump to Cruz, because the latter has made a career of stepping on them in pursuit of his own ambitions. But they hardly know Trump; it is mere speculation that he would be someone they could work with.

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In short, if Trump is nominated he will preside over a party with deep wounds, many of which he has inflicted. It is unclear how well he can stitch them together (he is no Ben Carson). And it is even more doubtful how he can expand beyond the Republican base after his hostile remarks about immigrants and racial/ethnic minorities, and after his repeated insensitive comments about women. He would be the candidate of an aggrieved majority of white men, with a substantial conservative minority of women, and an insubstantial slice of African Americans, Latinos, and Asians.

That is enough to make him a credible national candidate against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, but not enough to win if the Democrats get their vote out.

The Democratic campaign to date has been far more civil that its counterpart (and far simpler, with only two major candidates). Nevertheless there are wounds. Clinton supporters have criticized Sanders for proposing policies, such as universal single-payer health care, that would be unachievable and excessively costly. Women who support Sanders have had their commitment to feminism questioned. Sanders supporters point to Clinton’s Wall Street ties to question her commitment to reform, and many actually accept the Republican talking points about how dishonest and even corrupt she is. These are wounds that are not as deep as those on the GOP side, but they won’t heal without scars.

After his big win in New Hampshire, Bernie has momentum, but he’ll need it going into the Southern primaries in the next weeks, where a heavily minority Democratic electorate is predisposed to support Hillary. Unlike Trump in the Republican race, this is not yet Bernie’s race to lose. But if Hillary can’t stomp him good in the South, Bernie will be the favorite.

If he gets the nomination, he will have to convince Hillary’s supporters that he really can win, that he really cares about elements of the party base that support Hillary, and that his programs would amount to meaningful, achievable, but not frightening change. If he can do this, he has a good chance to pull together a national majority against Donald Trump. This would not be a replay of 1972, when Nixon as a center-right, pre-Watergate incumbent was able to butcher McGovern. Instead we would have a highly controversial non-incumbent facing a surprisingly adept center-left Democratic candidate. If the Democrats get their vote out, Sanders should win this matchup.

This is where Michael Bloomberg comes in. Faced with a quasi-fascist Republican and an openly socialist Democrat, Bloomberg may be delusive and ambitious enough to think he might win. He wouldn’t win (even the very popular Teddy Roosevelt failed to win in 1912), but he could affect the outcome. I think it most likely that he would offer a comfortable option for moderate Republicans and independents, and a relatively small number of Democrats for whom Sanders’ policies would be substantively unacceptable. He would hold both Trump and Sanders under a majority of the national vote. He could tip a few states in the Electoral College (e.g., Ohio), the net effect of which would likely go against the GOP. The model is Ross Perot in 1992, who probably cost Bush I his reelection.

john peeler

John Peeler