Yesterday Mike Bloomberg announced he would NOT be running for President. No kidding.
There are a lot of reasons why an independent Bloomberg candidacy would be a bad idea. Bloomberg's popularity peaked a long time ago (he's been out of office for two years). He's older than Hillary Clinton and just a year younger than Bernie Sanders. And he probably would have taken more voters from the Democrats than the Republicans, ensuring a President Trump (or whoever).
But another key reason why an independent bid would be a longshot is the same reason why Trump will most certainly not mount an independent bid if he loses the GOP nomination fight. In order to win the Presidency, you first have to be on the ballot. And that ain't easy.
In Virginia, the rules are relatively simple. For an independent candidate to get on the ballot, he or she needs to file a petition of 5,000 registered voters by the end of August. Still, you need at least 200 from each of the state's 11 Congressional districts. Plus not everyone who signs will be a registered voter or provide perfect information, so petitions are open to court challenges from opponents. (This is difficult enough that even popular U.S. Senate candidates can screw it up.) So you need to collect way more than what's required.
For a billionaire like Bloomberg, this kind of effort is possible; in fact, the last independent candidate to get on the ballot in all 50 states was another billionaire, Ross Perot. But Perot declared his candidacy in February of 1992, leaving him enough time to generate organizations in each state to gain ballot access. Bloomberg was running out of time to do this, and with other conditions not favorable to a run, he wisely announced now that he's out.
But there's another candidate who never lets pesky things like "timelines" or "reality" bother him. Just last week, Donald Trump again threatened to launch an independent bid if he continues to be "treated badly" by the GOP. Now, Trump is not as rich as Bloomberg. (In fact, no one really knows how much Trump is worth, since he bases his net worth on his feelings.) Still, he's rich enough to have the resources to develop an organization in each state to gather signatures and get on the ballot. But will he have time?
The Republican National Convention will be held in late July. Trump is clearly going to have a presence there; if he can't win a delegate majority outright, he'll have a sizable chunk of them. Even if a contested convention ends with another candidate (right now, Cruz is looking most likely) as the nominee, Trump would have very little time to meet filing deadlines in all 50 states; some are as early as June, although they could be contested in court.
What about third parties? Couldn't Trump be offered a spot on the ballot by the Libertarians or -- a favorite of right-wing bloggers -- the Constitution Party? Sure, but they're not on the ballot in all states either. The Libertarians currently have a slot in only 30 or so states, and the Constitution Party even fewer. So they'd require a similar petition effort in many states, up against the same resource and time constraints.
Virginia even puts up other barriers, including "sore loser" laws that bar unsuccessful primary candidates from launching independent bids for office. It's not clear that such laws would apply to Presidential candidates. But these laws demonstrate the lengths that current officeholders -- almost all of whom represent one of the two major parties -- will go to prevent outsiders and third parties from gaining any traction in elections.
A potential Trump independent bid is, therefore, a victim of Trump's current success. The longer he stays in the GOP race, the less time he has to launch an independent campaign. And the less likely he'd be on the ballot when his supporters go to the polls in November - unless he's on the Republican line.
The bottom line? Forget all about this talk of independent or third party candidates. As always, this November's election will be a two-party game. That's because the parties are the ones who write the rules.