Bloomberg for president? It could happen

Michael Bloomberg is considering a run for president, with reports saying he'd make his bid as an independent. That leads to a simple question: Why?

Bloomberg appears to have a viable path to the presidency, if that is truly his goal. But it lies in the Democratic Party. Though the drama currently unfolding on the GOP side is more spectacular, the Democrats are just as dysfunctional. Much as the Republican establishment conspired to coronate a third Bush as the party's standard bearer, the power brokers on the Democratic side conspired in the coronation of Hillary Clinton. The big difference between the parties' responses emerged from the difference between their benches.

Michael Bloomberg
Getty Images
Michael Bloomberg

On the Republican side, an impressive array of young-ish senators and accomplished governors overwhelmed the anointed favorite. With the field thus fractured, a tough-talking billionaire outsider was able to commandeer the party's anti-establishment factions, catapulting himself to consistent leads in the polls.

On the Democratic side, the Obama years have hollowed out the party. Prominent democrats between the ages of 45 and 60 are hard to find — other than, of course, Obama himself (who is ineligible ). As a result, even those seeking to draft a candidate they find preferable to Hillary had to pull names from the party's past. These ABC (Anyone-But-Clinton) Democrats flirted with the previously-defeated Al Gore, John Kerry, and Joe Biden, and the 66 year-old freshman Senator Elizabeth Warren, before resigning themselves to a 74 year-old Vermont socialist who has long kept himself an arms-length distance from their party.

Anyone who thinks that either the Democratic establishment or the Democratic base are happier with the state of their nominating contest than are their GOP counterparts hasn't been paying attention. The right billionaire outsider could upend the Democrats as readily as Trump has upended the Republicans.

These billionaires' strategic approaches, of course, would have to differ. Given the differences in timing and persona, Bloomberg could never do what Trump has already done — enter with a lead and hold it, while dominating daily headlines, for six months (and counting). But Bloomberg's entry into the Democratic race would cause both Democratic voters and the Democratic establishment to rethink the race in at least two ways.

First, Bloomberg is about as close to a movement progressive as Trump is to a movement conservative — which is to say, not very close at all. In point of fact, neither of these billionaire businessmen seem particularly ideological, and each hold a number of positions that are anathema to the bases of both parties.

Second, and for similar reasons, Bloomberg is far more likely to attract centrist and independent voters to a Democratic ticket than are either Clinton or Sanders. While the first of these considerations suggests that the Democrats would never allow Bloomberg to head their ticket, the second argues that it would be folly for them to reject him.

The balance between these calculations will thus hinge on how the Democrats answer a few key questions: Will Republican self-destruction suffice to guarantee a third consecutive Democratic victory? Will Hillary successfully weather the scandal storm to emerge standing strong without indictment or conviction? Can a self-proclaimed socialist win the White House? Will enough Democratic women overlook the party's second refusal to nominate the first female president?

If enough Democrats believe that the answer to at least one of these questions is yes, Bloomberg will likely hold little appeal to them. But if they conclude that the answer to all four is no, Bloomberg may be the one most capable of delivering victory to their party.

The circumstances leading to Bloomberg's victory in the Democratic primaries are thus hardly implausible. They combine growing disenchantment with the scandal-plagued Clinton, an intense questioning of Sanders' appeal beyond the far left, an assumption that their "war on women" trope will suffice to hold the women's vote, and an awareness that only fools fail to plan for the contingency that their adversaries might recover from self-inflicted wounds.

Should he emerge with the Democratic nomination, there is little question that Bloomberg — relatively unencumbered with Obama's baggage and credible in positioning himself as a results-oriented centrist — would be the Democrat's most formidable general election candidate.

Furthermore, this sort of strategic positioning would be entirely consistent with Bloomberg's electoral success in New York City. A lifelong Democrat, Bloomberg re-registered as a Republican to avoid the bitterly contested Democratic mayoral primary in favor of the far lighter competition on the Republican side.

The moment he secured the Republican line, however, he tacked hard to the center (of New York politics, at least), spending most of his 12 years in office as a non-partisan independent. This time, it is the brutal Republican primary that seems worth avoiding. For a man like Bloomberg, the Democratic route must seem far more enticing.

Running as an independent, on the other hand, Bloomberg would almost certainly become the most recent in a list of impressive individuals who believed that their accomplishments would allow them to defeat history. No, if Bloomberg is really interested in becoming president, he will enter the Democratic primary — soon. If he chooses any other course of action, he is just playing games.

Commentary by Bruce Abramson, Ph.D., J.D. and Jeff Ballabon. Abramson is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and director of policy at the Iron Dome Alliance. Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic where he advises and represents corporate and political clients. He previously headed the communications and public policy departments of major media corporations including CBS News and Court TV. Follow them on Twitter @bdabramson and @ballabon.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion onTwitter.