Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor, has ruled out a run for the White House, citing the difficulty of making it through a crowded Democratic field that is increasingly pulling to the left.
Mr Bloomberg, 77, had for months flirted with a run, tapping his fortune to assemble a seasoned campaign team and spending more than $100m to boost the Democratic party’s chances in the midterm elections in November.
In an opinion article published on Tuesday by his Bloomberg News service, the former mayor expressed confidence that he would have defeated Donald Trump, US president, in a general election.
But Mr Bloomberg, who has traditionally appealed to pragmatic independent voters, did not believe he would get the chance, acknowledging that he was “clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field”.
He pledged instead to work from outside Washington to advance causes he has championed over the years, including combating climate change, gun control and education. As he took himself out of the running, Mr Bloomberg also delivered a warning to those seeking to unseat the president.
“It’s essential that we nominate a Democrat who will be in the strongest position to defeat Donald Trump,” he wrote. “We cannot allow the primary process to drag the party to an extreme that would diminish our chances in the general election and translate into ‘Four More Years’.”
To some political observers, Mr Bloomberg’s decision was another sign of the eroding middle ground of US politics, and a Democratic party that is increasingly under the sway of an ascendant group of progressives.
That faction of the party, embodied by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old representative, recently flexed its muscles by chasing online retailer Amazon from Queens, effectively spoiling a deal engineered by a Democratic governor.
Their victory was a particular rebuke for Mr Bloomberg, who as mayor had laid the groundwork for Amazon by pushing to reinvent the city as a hub for tech companies after the devastation of the 2008 financial crisis.
“Amazon told everyone that the AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] wing of the party was in charge,” said Hank Sheinkopf a veteran political strategist who has worked with Mr Bloomberg. “What does it mean? It means you have to fight them to get through to first base.”
Mr Sheinkopf echoed Mr Bloomberg’s concerns that the two-dozen Democratic candidates now declared for, or seriously testing, a primary run was shifting too far to the left as they sought to emerge from the crowd. “The Democratic party is coming up with niche candidates who are competing for the same turf,” he said.
Given his age, Mr Bloomberg, a three-time New York City mayor, may have ended his career in elected office by passing up the 2020 race.
He drew up detailed plans to run as an independent in 2016 but ultimately dropped them for fear that his candidacy might split the Democratic vote and deliver the presidency to Mr Trump. In the event, Mr Trump won anyway.
Mr Bloomberg emerged as a vocal critic of the new president, a fellow New York billionaire, whom he called “a threat to the Constitution”.
Speculation about a 2020 run began to build as he brought on board campaign operatives form the Obama and Clinton teams. Then, in October, the longtime Republican made a public show of changing his registration to Democrat after he and his advisers concluded that there was no route to the White House for an independent candidate.
Some analysts argued all along that Mr Bloomberg’s chances were slim in spite of his name recognition and his vast financial resources. A billionaire titan who supported aggressive policing policies was out of step with a ‘MeToo’ era in which many Democrats appear to favour passion over Mr Bloomberg’s brand of pragmatism.
But others argued that a glut of progressive candidates might cancel one another out and clear a lane for Mr Bloomberg.
People close to Mr Bloomberg, renowned for his emphasis on data analysis over sentiment, said there was no pivotal moment that had tipped his decision but rather a steady period of reflection.
“We built a significant political team and apparatus to be ready to go if he wanted to run for president,” one aide said. Mr Bloomberg, he added, had not yet made any decisions about giving his backing to another candidate.
A former staffer conceded that making it through the primary in the current environment would have been difficult, even with Mr Bloomberg’s money.
“I think he would have been great if he could have endured what it takes to get there. Enduring that seems like torture and pandering is not his strong suit,” the former staffer said.
But this person took some comfort that Mr Bloomberg’s political team and resources meant he would “still have a voice” in national politics.
In his statement, Mr Bloomberg promised as much, writing: “In the weeks and months ahead, I will dive even deeper into the work of turning around our country, through concrete actions and results. And I will continue supporting candidates who can provide the leadership we need — on climate change, gun violence, education, health, voting rights and other critical issues.”