Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York mayor, is considering making an independent bid for the United States presidency, a move that could provide yet another wild turn in a 2016 race that has already seen more than its share of them.
Bloomberg's deliberations, first reported by the New York Times, were confirmed yesterday by several close associates. This is not the first time that Bloomberg has explored the possibility, always making a pragmatic calculation of whether winning is feasible.
Three associates said that several factors had convinced him that a run outside of the Republican and Democratic party process was worth another look. One is the possibility that the Republican ticket may be headed by a polarising figure, such as Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
The other is that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton may turn out to be a weaker candidate than was once expected - and might even lose the nomination to Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist whose mainstream appeal is in question.
If the right combination of those possibilities begins to look likely - which Bloomberg thinks could become apparent in March, after the first big round of state primaries - he believes they could create an opening for him to make a credible run as an independent.
"It's something that he's looked at, off and on, for years," said one Bloomberg friend, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Bloomberg has a reputation as a skilled manager and political bridge builder. A longtime Democrat, he joined the Republican party to run for mayor in 2001. Six years later, he registered as an independent.
Bloomberg made his fortune by founding the financial news and information company that bears his name.
He took office less than four months after New York was traumatised by the attacks of September 11, 2001, pledging that the city would remain "safe, strong, open for business and ready to lead the world in the 21st century".
When Bloomberg left the post 12 years later, New York was thriving, by most measures: the economy was robust, crime was down, the transportation system more efficient, and a budget deficit estimated at more than US$3 billion ($4.6 billion) when he took over transformed into a US$2.4 billion surplus.
The biggest blot on his mayoral record was authorising an aggressive policing tactic, known as "stop and frisk", which was found unconstitutional by a federal court, which said it was used in a discriminatory way against law-abiding citizens, who were mostly black and hispanic.
Bloomberg would face a formidable set of challenges: no third-party contender has ever won the White House. Bloomberg also is not well known outside the political circles of the Northeast.
Trump shoots from the lip
Donald Trump says his supporters are supremely devoted to him. But would they support him if he shot someone?
"They say I have the most loyal people - did you ever see that? - where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters," Trump said, illustrating his point by pulling his fingers into a gun shape. "OK? It's like incredible." The crowd laughed and clapped, and someone in the audience shouted out love for the candidate. "We love you, too, man," Trump said.
Trump's comment came during a campaign rally yesterday at Dordt College in northwest Iowa.
Meanwhile, Trump has said Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly shouldn't be able to referee the next Republican presidential debate because "she's very biased." Fox, which will be hosting the presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, just days before the state's voters kick off the 2016 presidential elimination heats with their February 1 caucuses, both shrugged off and welcomed Trump's latest blast at the network's anchor.
"Megyn Kelly has no conflict of interest. Donald Trump is just trying to build up the audience for Thursday's debate, for which we thank him," Fox said in a statement.
- Washington Post, Bloomberg