Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Two Billionaires and a Socialist

Who would have thought this November’s general election ballot could feature two billionaires and a socialist running for President.

Just as astonishing, all three are from New York, guaranteeing that the country will experience, for better or worse, what Ted Cruz slyly refers to as “New York values.”

bloomberg_sanders_trumpDonald Trump is a billionaire New York businessman, Michael Bloomberg is the billionaire former mayor of New York and Bernie Sanders, who grew up in Brooklyn, is an avowed socialist.  Trump got his start with a $1 million loan from his father. Bloomberg leveraged a $10 million severance payment from Wall Street into a fortune-making business. Sanders, whose father emigrated from Poland to avoid the Holocaust, joined the Young People’s Socialist League while attending college.

While the 2016 election wouldn’t break the glass ceiling for a woman winning the White House, there would be a two-out-of-three chance the winner would be the first Jewish President of the United States. Bloomberg and Sanders are Jewish. Sanders is the first Jewish candidate to win a major party primary in America.

All three aspirants share ambiguous political affiliations. Trump has veered from liberal to conservative. Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York as a Republican, but left the party in 2007 to become an independent. Sanders was elected to Congress and the Senate as an independent, but has caucused with congressional Democrats. Muddled or johnny-come-lately ties to a major political party may be an electoral advantage in this election cycle, which will go down in history as the Year of the Angry Voter.

Beyond that, the resumes of these three unlikely presidential wannabes radically diverge.

Trump bills himself as a “winner,” master deal maker and untethered talker. Sanders positions himself as the pied piper of a political revolution aimed at breaking up big banks and knocking down big campaign donors. Bloomberg is known for his philanthropy, stop-and-frisk police tactics and advocacy for tougher gun laws.

Trump says he will make America great again. Sanders says he will make America fair again. Bloomberg would say he has the experience and centrist views to make America work again.

Of course, Bloomberg hasn’t entered the president sweepstakes yet. He has just jetted out rumors. The triggers for his entry are apparently Trump winning the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton losing the Democratic nomination. Neither of those things may eventually happen, but Bloomberg could jump in anyway.

Assuming for a moment that Trump, Sanders and Bloomberg will appear as a trio on the November general election ballot, voters will be presented with a smorgasbord of views.

Trump talks about blocking immigration with a wall and a ban on Muslims. He says he will undo trade deals and get tougher with China and Japan. He has signed up to repeal Obamacare and defend the Second Amendment. He would bolster the military and take what he calls a more aggressive role in fighting terrorism. He hasn’t exactly cozied up to Wall Street hedge fund managers and is mostly self-financing his own campaign. Trump’s views on reproductive rights is cloudy, but he says he now is anti-abortion.

Sanders supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented people living in the country. He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. He wants to move beyond Obamacare and enroll everyone in Medicare health insurance. He voted against U.S. military action in Iraq and appears reluctant to commit more money to defense and American military involvement overseas. Sanders wants to rein in Wall Street, end the “rigged economy” and revive limits on corporate contributions and SuperPacs. Sanders is pro-choice.

Bloomberg has supported immigration reform. He is for free trade. His most notable health care foray was an attempt to ban big cups of soda. He opposed withdrawing troops from Iraq, supports the Patriot Act and set up a counter-terrorism bureau in New York to sniff out suicide bombers. He says he has a distaste for taxes and proposed cuts in New York’s property and sales taxes. He favors tax breaks for big corporations and seems to have a comfortable relationship with Wall Street – he worked earlier in his career for a Wall Street investment bank, holds an MBA and derives his wealth from providing high quality financial  information to business. Bloomberg is pro-choice.

Bernie-Bloomberg-TrumpIt is tempting to plot the three candidates along a straight line with Trump on the right, Sanders on the left and Bloomberg in the middle. But that may not hold true on every issue. Bloomberg is easily the most ardent advocate of gun control measures, while Sanders takes a more nuanced approach and Trump opposes all gun controls. Trump and Sanders, the non-establishment candidates, oppose major trade deals, while Bloomberg, the embodiment of the economic establishment, favors them. Trump and Sanders are on polar extremes on universal health insurance. We would have to wait and see where Bloomberg lands.

None of the candidates, based on their records so far, would bowl over minority voters. Trump has insulted them. Sanders has a history of activism on racial issues, but it is largely a distant history. Bloomberg, who improved graduation rates and installed after-school programs in New York schools, is best known for police tactics that minorities felt, with some justification, targeted them.

Energizing young voters is never easy and Trump and Bloomberg, the billionaires, seem improbable galvanic agents. As Hillary Clinton has discovered, it takes candidates like Sanders the socialist who appeal to youthful idealism to win the hearts and votes of young, often first-time voters.

dynastyThere is still time for the presidential race to boil down to a battle of dynasties between Clinton and Jeb Bush. But there also is a chance – a serious chance – we could see a very different, previously unimaginable battle in the fall between two billionaires and a socialist.



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