Just three days after returning to the Democratic Party, ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg schmoozes with a potential voter on Oct. 13 in New Hampshire. Photo: Via Bloomberg's flickr page
Ronald Reagan is the classic case of the Democrat who becomes a Republican. A champion of the New Deal and supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he officially changed his party registration in 1962.
John Lindsay is the opposite: The classic case of the Republican who becomes a Democrat. The then-mayor swapped parties in 1971 before launching an abortive Democratic presidential nomination bid in 1972.
The late U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Arlen Specter one-upped them both. Initially a Democrat, he joined the GOP in 1965 — and 45 years later, switched back to run as a Democrat in 2010, only to lose the race.
But when it comes to repeatedly refashioning one’s partisan identity — and ponying up untold millions to rebrand multiple times — no one in recent memory can come close to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
A Democrat who became a Republican who became an independent, the billionaire just became a Democrat again, completing, for now, a cycle in which he changed his voter registration three times and had four separate political affiliations, one a duplicate, over 18 years.
The latest of the dizzying switcheroos — each one in sync with the electoral calendar, each seemingly driven by political considerations, not principles — came on Oct. 10 when Bloomberg signed paperwork to register as a Democrat and posted the photo on Instagram at 5:40 a.m.
A not-so-subtle dig at President Donald Trump that accompanied the posting instantly stoked speculation that he was launching a White House bid in 2020. Which is exactly what happened the last time he changed party registration, from Republican to independent, and organized a third-party 2008 presidential campaign that never got off the ground.
“At key points in U.S. history, one of the two parties has served as a bulwark against those who threaten our Constitution,” Bloomberg wrote in describing why he reregistered.
“Two years ago at the Democratic Convention, I warned of those threats. Today, I have re-registered as a Democrat — I had been a member for most of my life — because we need Democrats to provide the checks and balance our nation so badly needs,” he added.
Three days later, he was off to New Hampshire. And there, at a get-out-the-vote rally in Nashua, in the state which holds the first presidential primary in America, he sought to defuse questions about a possible reprise of his Oval Office ambitions:
“Right now, I’m only focused on the midterms, plain and simple,” he said.
Indeed, Bloomberg has pledged to spend $80 million on Democratic Congressional candidates in a bid to flip the House, plus an extra $20 million to boost Senate Democrats, a $100 million tally that dwarfs the $55 million GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson is forking over, making him the largest single largest political giver in the U.S. in 2018.
But what will he do after the Nov. 6 midterms? “Well, we’ll have to see what happens down the road,” he said.POLITICAL REINCARNATION
If he enters the fray, he’s positioned to run as an able if dull technocrat who’d bring policy-oriented, data-driven managerial skills to the nation.
But he’d also have to defend stop-and-frisk policies that alienated minorities, and he’d be vulnerable to the allegations of sexism and settlements of harassment at his business empire that first surfaced in his 2001 mayoral campaign.
The changing of political sides is a longstanding Bloomberg tradition: As an 18-year-old, he first registered with the Democratic Party in 1960 from his parents’ home in Massachusetts. Flash forward 40 years, and he became a Republican in 2000, enabling him to steer clear of the crowded Democratic primary field and capture City Hall in 2001.
Then, in his second term as mayor, he changed his registration a second time, dumping the GOP in 2007, becoming an independent, hiring a huge campaign staff to launch a White House bid, researching how to get on the ballot in all 50 states and signaling he’d spend $1 billion from his personal fortune to win in 2008. But he pulled the plug on the race.
In 2012, he mulled a third-party independent presidential campaign, but never took the plunge. Ditto in 2016, when he nixed the idea for a third time before endorsing Hillary Clinton in her losing race against Trump.
And now, it’s deja-vu all over again. As a 76-year-old who would be 78 in 2020, he’s now a born-again Democrat after a third registration change, an older white male, in a party moving toward women and minorities, who boasts a net worth of $52 billion and could easily self-finance a national campaign.
But should he? His critics on both the left and right are troubled by his maneuverings.
“Michael Bloomberg, if you watch, recently reregistered as a Democrat so that he can try to buy a Democrat nomination to run against Donald Trump,” said House Majority Leader and California Republican Kevin McCarthy in a TV interview last week. “That’s unfortunate, and not very democratic with a small ‘D.’”
And Mayor Bill de Blasio pooh-poohed his predecessor’s dreams. “I think someone who has not been a member of the Democratic Party for the last 20 years is not going to be what Democrats are looking for,” he said on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.
“There’s a tremendous wave in the Democratic Party. People want to really achieve change, they want Democrats who are uncompromising, who are going to be forceful, consistent Democrats,” de Blasio added. “You see it all over the country. So, I absolutely have respect for him, but I think, wrong time, wrong place.”