Yes, it's important to note that Bai is completely wrong about the relationship between Tea Parties and the Republicans, and MoveOn and the Democrats. He's completely wrong, too, that Barack Obama somehow proved that an independent candidate could raise lots of money; we don't know what percentage of Obama's money came from people firmly inside the Democratic Party network, but it was presumably a fairly high percentage.
Yes, it's important to note that Bai really doesn't seem to understand what political parties are and what they do, and he doesn't understand why and how third-party candidates sometimes thrive, to the extent they do. Nor does he understand why they don't win.
But beyond that...the central conceit of Matt Bai's latest valentine to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is that something fundamental has changed over the last twenty years:
Since he wouldn’t need to build a party organization in the way Mr. Perot did in 1992, Mr. Bloomberg can wait considerably longer — perhaps even until the 2012 primaries — to assess whether a campaign might be viable.This is entirely wrong -- but not in a "check with a political scientist" way, but in a "check Wikipedia" way.
Bai seems to be under impression that Ross Perot built a "party" organization in 1992. That is wrong. Perot didn't transform his personal campaign organization into the Reform Party until well after the 1992 election. And Perot's mix of centralized campaign organization and grass roots volunteers began with a Larry King appearance on February 20, 1992. In which, by the way, Perot claimed he was not running...although Ross Perot hardly invented that dodge, which Bai is so impressed with. At any rate, Perot's campaign started two days after the New Hampshire primary, so Bloomberg would not "wait considerably longer" if he didn't start his campaign "until the 2012 primaries."
Oh, and Bai might not remember the previous similar candidate, but John Anderson's national campaign began in spring 1980, after he had unsuccessfully competed for the Republican nomination in 1980. No party organization for Anderson, either.
So: Bai's description of Perot '92 doesn't at all fit Perot '92 or Anderson '80, although I suppose it does fit Perot '96. The kind of candidacy Bai envisions and claims is brand new is, in fact, (at least) thirty years old, and exactly matches the campaign that Bai sets up as its opposite.
Nice job, Matt Bai!
(Fine, I'll mention that the entire notion that the nation yearns for a short, liberal, Jewish Mayor of New York is preposterous, anyway. It is correct that if Barack Obama is unpopular entering 2012 that a third-party candidacy on the order of Anderson or even Perot is quite plausible, although it's extremely unlikely to do anything positive except entertain political junkies.)