Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Lawyers, lawyers everywhere, so how 'bout a billionaire?

In my latest FindLaw column, I examine how the frontrunning Presidential candidates who are lawyers (Clinton, Edwards, Guiliani, Obama, and Romney) spin their lawyerly experience to match the key themes of their campaign and to avoid activating negative stereotypes of lawyers. The answer---except for Romney, who has a law degree but was never really a lawyer---is to portray their legal careers as a form of public service. Meanwhile, Maureen Dowd observes today that not only are all 3 Democratic frontrunners lawyers; they're all married to lawyers (or in Dowd's characteristically catty phrase, "married to lawyers who talk too much.")

With so many lawyers in the field, surely there must be room for a billionaire non-lawyer, right? So goes the thinking of Mike Bloomberg and the sycophants who surround him, whispering that only he can rescue the nation from the partisan swamp. I'll be the first to concede that with the exception of his preposterous, and luckily failed, effort to bring the 2012 Olympics to New York City, Bloomberg has been a very good mayor. He has increased the professionalism of city services, continued to keep the lid on crime, and all the while reduced the temperature of ethnic and racial politics from the Giuliani era. I'll even concede for the sake of argument that this experience qualifies him to be President. But it hardly follows that it justifies his expenditure of a billion dollars to throw the race to the Republican nominee.

A surprising number of the commentariat across the political spectrum have been intoning that it is unclear whether Bloomberg's entry into the race will help the Democratic or the Republican nominee more. That's true only in the literal sense that one can never predict anything with 100% precision. But if you examine Bloomberg's views on domestic policy issues such as health care, environmental regulation, taxes, gun control, and just about everything else, they are almost indistinguishable from those of Clinton and Obama. And in everything but tone, Bloomberg is closer to Edwards than to any of the Republicans---with the possible exception of Huckabee on domestic policy issues that don't involve culture war questions, but of course, if Huckabee were the Republican nominee, the race would be all about culture war questions.

Bloomberg's foreign policy issues are thus far largely unknown. His not-yet-a-campaign website refers only to domestic policy issues, but he has been taking lessons from Nancy Soderburg and Henry Kissinger (gulp!). It's hard to know exactly what they've been telling him, but because Chuck Hagel---perhaps the single harshest Republican critic of the Iraq war---is frequently mentioned as a possible Bloomberg running mate, it's hard to imagine Bloomberg with a foreign policy closer to the Giuliani/McCain/Romney position of out-Bushing Bush than to the cautious disentanglment advocated by Clinton and Obama. So here too, the most likely effect of a Bloomberg campaign would be to siphen away otherwise-Democratic votes.

By my reckoning, the only way in which Bloomberg draws Republican votes is if Clinton is the nominee, because there is a core of American voters who would not vote for Clinton under any circumstances and might therefore vote for a Republican over her, but would instead vote for Bloomberg if he were in the race. Yet it's hard to believe that this effect would come close to the siphoning effect in the other direction, even if Clinton is the nominee: Many people who basically agree with her on the issues would hold their nose and vote for her if the choice were Clinton or a Republican, but will defect to Bloomberg if given the choice.

The buzz from Bloomberg's inner circle is that he'll only run if he has a chance to win, rather than act as a spoiler. But of course, even if he has a "chance" to win---and what counts as a chance? 50%? 20%? 5%?---he's still more likely simply to be a spoiler. Bloomberg is a smart enough guy to have figured all of this out, so either he's playing some weird game or he's so blinded by ego that he doesn't care. I'm hoping for weird game but very worried that he's deadly serious.

Posted by Mike Dorf


Mo MoDo said...

The other dual lawyer power couple I can come up with in recent memory were the Quayles.

egarber said...

And with Bloomberg, calculating whether he has a true chance has to go beyond how he might poll in percentage terms nationally.

Recall that Ross Perot -- I'm not sure how much money he spent -- cracked a meaningful barrier with close to 20% of the popular vote in 1992. But that translated into exactly ZERO electoral college votes.

So it seems like the mayor will have to convince himself that he can leap over a pretty high bar.

Andrew MacRae said...

Two points on Ross Perot. Firstly, he quit the campaign for two months and never regained traction. Secondly, he spent 75 million or so - Mike bloomberg would likely spend more. If you are interested, you should join the effort to Draft Mike Bloomberg for President

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