We all have dreams. For most of us those dreams are a little smaller than becoming president of the United States. But whoever you are and whatever your dreams, there comes a point when you have to give up on some of them. That moment is never easy, but whenever it comes, there are few better models for how to handle it than Mike Bloomberg's thoughtful explanation of why he is choosing not to run for president, published--of course--on Bloomberg View.
Bloomberg is 74, so it may be this was his last best chance to mount a presidential bid. Ironically, the problem he points to in his op-ed--extreme partisanship in Washington matched by polarized viewpoints in the population at large--is exactly the phenomenon that has effectively barred him from the race. A longtime Democrat who ran for mayor of New York City on the Republican ticket and with the endorsement of the previous Republican mayor, Bloomberg is very much a centrist. Centrists may be what this nation needs, but our primary system tends to shut them out because they fail to appeal to either the Tea Party or the Green Party.
Bloomberg's only choice, then, was to run as an independent candidate in the general election--and unlikely as it seems, he had been seriously considering that choice. The New York Times recounted in detail the many alliances he formed, consultants he hired, polling he did, and advertising he assembled to serve him in a presidential bid, causing The New Yorker to quip: "One thing's for sure: he's in favor of full employment for political consultants and other operatives."
When he finally accepted reality and pulled the plug on his likely last hope to be president, he did it with wisdom and grace that we should all strive to emulate. Here are a few things Bloomberg did right:
1. He chose transparency.
With any other would-be candidate, all we would know was that so-and-so was "weighing" a bid for the presidency. Bloomberg and his staff shared an enormous amount of information, even up to the television ad he produced, now published on the Times website. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in public and say, "I really, really wanted this, I did everything I could to get it, but I can't have it." That's what Bloomberg has done.
2. He refused to be bitter.
The partisanship that barred Bloomberg from the primary races has caused no end of damage and cut short several political careers. You might expect him to rail against it, and he did, noting: "Extremism is on the march, and unless we stop it, our problems at home and abroad will grow worse."
But he made his argument for centrism in a logical, measured way that's short on hyperbole and long on reason. And if he had harsh words for Trump and Cruz and their anti-immigration stances, he delivered those criticisms with passion but without anger.
3. He respected the data.
It's great to dream big but it's also important to look at the facts and especially the data in our data-driven world. And with experienced pollsters in his employ, Bloomberg had all the data he needed to know that the presidency was beyond his grasp. Though he mentions neither contender for the Democratic nomination by name, his advisors told the Times that the increasing likelihood of a Clinton nomination was a deciding factor for Bloomberg. As the third candidate in a general election where Trump and Sanders faced off, he could have accurately portrayed himself as the only centrist candidate, though he would still almost certainly lose. With Clinton the likely nominee, the center doesn't look quite so empty.
He admitted in his op-ed that he could not win, although he paints a rather unlikely scenario: That he'd be able to pick off enough states to deny either of the other two candidates the majority of electoral votes, throwing the decision to the Republican-dominated Congress, thus ensuring a president Trump or Cruz. The more likely scenario--that he would have drawn votes that would otherwise go to the Democratic nominee--might have been more truthful but also more suicidal for a Republican politician to admit. The end result is the same: Bloomberg couldn't win and the most likely result of his bid would be a Republican victory.
4. He's satisfied with what he's already built.
Accepting the accomplishments you've already gained and making the most of them is a difficult thing for most big dreamers to do. It takes a fair amount of wisdom, and that's the path Bloomberg seems to have chosen. At the same time as he was mulling his bid for president, he had also returned, about 18 months ago, to leadership of Bloomberg LP, the business info terminal company that made him a billionaire in the first place. As the political drama unfolded, he's been spending long hours at the company's New York headquarters and during that time, the company has seen massive expansion and record profits. It's a neat trick to do both those things at once.
At the same time, through his foundation, he plans to give away most of his $38 billion to tackle some of the world's biggest problems, such as climate change and gun violence. He may not get to run for president. But he'll still leave quite a legacy behind.