WASHINGTON – There will be no battle of the New York billionaires in the 2016 presidential race.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that he will not run for president as an independent candidate — a move that would have roiled this year’s already extraordinarily unpredictable presidential campaign.
Bloomberg’s announcement came on the eve of Tuesday’s Michigan primary, the first nominating contest in a big industrial state. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both favored in a primary that should offer clues about how the candidates will fare in important Midwest contests to come. Also on tap for Tuesday are primaries for both parties in Mississippi, and Republican contests in Idaho and Hawaii.
Bloomberg, who had spent months mulling a third-party run, made his decision official through an editorial posted by the Bloomberg View, writing that he believes his candidacy would likely lead to the election of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
“That is not a risk I can take in good conscience,” the 74-year-old billionaire wrote.
Bloomberg was blistering in his critique of Trump, currently the Republican front-runner, saying the billionaire real estate mogul has run “the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people’s prejudices and fears.”
He was similarly critical of Cruz, saying the Texas senator’s “pandering on immigration may lack Trump’s rhetorical excess, but it is no less extreme.”
He acknowledged that he and Trump had been on “friendly terms” and that he had twice agreed to be on his reality TV show “The Apprentice.” But the former mayor said that Trump’s campaign “appeals to our worst impulses.”
“We cannot ‘make America great again’ by turning our backs on the values that made us the world’s greatest nation in the first place,” Bloomberg wrote. “I love our country too much to play a role in electing a candidate who would weaken our unity and darken our future — and so I will not enter the race for president of the United States.”
Bloomberg made only an oblique reference to Clinton and Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and did not endorse a candidate.
Trump has maintained his grip on the Republican field, with Cruz emerging as his strongest competitor. Trump’s rise in particular has sparked discussions among the party establishment about blocking the real estate mogul in a contested convention or perhaps supporting a third-party candidate who could keep him from the White House.
Florida Sen. Mario Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have one last chance to emerge as viable alternatives. Their home states vote on March 15 and offer winner-take-all caches of delegates that could revive sagging candidacies. Kasich is also hoping to get a boost with a better than expected showing Tuesday in Michigan, which neighbors Ohio.
Rubio does not plan to leave Florida until after next week’s primary. Campaign officials concede it will be virtually impossible to stay in the race without a home-state win, but have expressed confidence voters will move toward him as primary day draws closer.
Cruz aides are making noise about taking on Rubio in his home state, hoping to block him from winning so Cruz can move to a head-to-head race with Trump. Cruz’s campaign announced plans to open 10 offices in the state and has said the senator will hold events there this week.
In the race for the Republican nomination, Trump has 384 delegates to the party’s national convention to Cruz’s 300. Rubio has 151 delegates and Kasich 37, with 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination.
On the Democratic side, Clinton has 1,130 delegates and Sanders 499. Including superdelegates — members of Congress, governors and party officials who can support the candidate of their choice. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination.
In their latest debate Sunday night in Flint, Michigan, Clinton and Sanders clashed over their records, with the former secretary of state defending her Wall Street ties and the Vermont senator fighting off accusations that he opposed a 2009 bill that provided billions of dollars to bail out the auto industry, the mainstay of Michigan’s economy.
The results from Michigan and Mississippi will offer clues about whether Sanders is making any progress in expanding support beyond his devoted followers in the under-30 crowd, and making any inroads in the overwhelming support that Clinton has enjoyed with black voters.
Clinton’s surge in the Democratic race has given her a firm grip on the lead for the Democratic nomination, which factored in Bloomberg’s decision that concludes his third and likely final flirtation with a White House run.
The former three-term mayor — who had indicated he’d have spent $1 billion of his own money on the campaign — had set a mid-March deadline for his team of advisers to assess the feasibility of mounting a run.
Those close to the process said Bloomberg had believed the dominance of Trump among Republicans and the rise of Sanders amid Democrats had opened a centrist lane for a nonideological, pragmatic campaign. But Bloomberg aides say that path is now blocked with Clinton emerging as the likely Democratic nominee.
Bloomberg grew worried that his candidacy would siphon more support from Clinton than Trump, ensuring that part of the mayor’s carefully managed legacy would be that he helped give Trump the White House.