Bret Stephens: Bloomberg should run because he can win

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2019, file photo, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a news conference at a gun control advocacy event in Las Vegas. Bloomberg has opened door to a potential presidential run, saying the Democratic field 'not well positioned' to defeat Trump. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Mike Bloomberg should run for president, for two reasons that ought to be dispositive. First, he would be a very good president, potentially a great one. Second, he stands a much better chance of beating Donald Trump than anyone in the current Democratic field.

The main question is whether Democrats are inclined to allow the former New York City mayor to save them from themselves.

Until last week, the conventional wisdom was that they weren’t so inclined. Then came that New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll showing Trump competitive with, or ahead of, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the six battleground states that will likely decide the 2020 election.

If Trump is this strong now, in the midst of his impeachment woes and all the general distaste for him, where is he going to be in 11 months in a contest against opponents with nicknames like “Sleepy Joe,” “Crazy Bernie” or “Uber Left Elizabeth Warren”?

This was no doubt the thought that induced Bloomberg to hurriedly dispatch staffers to Alabama to file primary paperwork in time for its Friday deadline. The case against a Bloomberg candidacy is that he can’t possibly win the nomination when so many Democratic primary voters want to cancel billionaires, soak the rich and relitigate the crime-fighting strategies that defined his 12-year tenure as mayor.

But the case for a Bloomberg candidacy is stronger and infinitely simpler: In a field divided between politically feeble centrists, unelectable progressives and one talented but awfully young small-city mayor, he ... can ... win.

How so?

Because his money instantly neutralizes the Trump campaign’s formidable fundraising advantage, which as of last month had twice as much cash on hand as the Obama campaign did at the same stage of his reelection campaign.

Because he also neutralizes Trump’s strongest reelection argument, which is that “whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me.” The right’s charge-sheet against today’s Democrats is that they hate capitalism, hate Israel, hate the cops, think of America as a land of iniquity, and never met a tax or regulation they didn’t love. Against Bloomberg it all falls flat.

Because his views on gun control, abortion and climate change fit squarely in the Democratic mainstream without being obnoxious or frightening to middle-of-the-road America. The Democratic base will not sit out the election and squander its chances to oust Trump just because Bloomberg’s wealth offends them or because they won’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t embrace the Green New Deal.

Because even his opponents know there can be no gainsaying his ability to serve as president; or his talent for appointing competent deputies; or his mastery of the mechanics of government; or his overwhelmingly successful tenure as New York mayor; or his understanding of business and the economy; or his immediate credibility on the world stage; or his sobriety of judgment or general probity of character. Mike Bloomberg has donated more money — at least $6 billion — than Donald Trump has ever had.

Because the voters who will matter in the election — that is, those who live neither in deep blue nor deep red states — want a centrist. Democrats in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida tell pollsters they want “a Democratic nominee who is more moderate than most Democrats” and that they prefer “one who would bridge the partisan divide,” according to a report Friday from my colleagues Jonathan Martin and Katie Glueck.

Oh, and because Bloomberg is what Trump only pretends to be: a bona fide billionaire and proven entrepreneur. In 2012, the Romney campaign tried to create a contest between “makers and takers.” A Bloomberg-Trump contest would be one between a maker and a faker.

All this should terrify the Trump campaign. Yes, Bloomberg has some weaknesses as a candidate. These include age (77), a less-than-charismatic speaking style, a reputation as a scold who wants to take away your supersized fizzy drink, his (Trumpian) reluctance to release his full tax returns, and the fact that he’s a technocratic master-of-the-universe in an era of populist demagoguery.

None of these should be deal-breakers for any persuadable voter. The real question is whether Democrats can quickly get the message that, contrary to what many of them have supposed, the election is not theirs to lose. A candidate who flubs his lines against Trump will yield the same disastrous result as one who sounds like the Party Line.

Of course, the Democrats could always get lucky. The recession might arrive by Easter. A convincing process of, and vote for, impeachment in the House could move a few Senate Republicans to vote for conviction. Some other major Trumpian scandal might come to light.

But if trouncing Donald Trump is essential to the preservation of liberal democracy, then it won’t do to cross fingers and hope he stumbles. A Bloomberg candidacy would be a gift to Democrats, the country and the world. Sneer at it at your peril.