Many professional Republicans disagree strongly with Donald Trump’s comments, political views, and lack of their perception of political correctness. They are prepared to say and do anything to thwart his nomination. They are afraid he would lead their party to a devastating defeat in the general election. They are desperate to find a more “suitable” candidate. Some party insiders have been floating the idea of a third party candidate. I get all that.
Nevertheless, history tells us that running a third party candidate would be extremely foolhardy. Third party candidates have run for election many times. Often, their primary purpose was to highlight a particular issue that they feel both major parties had ignored, such as states’ rights in the cases of John Breckenridge and George Wallace or consumer activism in the case of Ralph Nader. Other times, it was to promote an extreme agenda, either far right or far left, that was outside the political mainstream.
None of them has ever come close to winning. Even the popular and successful ex-President Teddy Roosevelt failed in 1912. Dissatisfied with the performance of his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, he ran under the Progressive (nick-named “Bull Moose”) Party. Although he was the most successful third-party candidate in history winning 88 electoral votes, all he really accomplished was to swing the election to Woodrow Wilson. Incidentally, for you history trivia buffs, Taft is chiefly remembered for three things: (1) his considerable bulk, (2) initiating the “seventh inning stretch,” albeit by accident, and (3) being the only person in history to have served as both President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
There have been many third-party presidential candidates, too many to list here. Some have even achieved modest success. For example, as mentioned above, TR garnered 88 electoral votes in 1912. Breckenridge won 72 in various southern states in 1856 on the eve of the Civil War. Finally, Wallace won 46 in 1968. He was the last one to win any.
Curiously, there have been three presidents who did not have any major party affiliation (great quiz question). Think about it. The answer will appear below.
Although there has been much bloviating about a third-party candidate this year, in reality, in my opinion, the chances are remote for the following reasons:
- The winner-take-all electoral system strongly favors the major party candidates.
- The procedural hurdles in some states to even get on the ballot result in many third-party candidates failing to become eligible in all 50 states.
- Who would the GOP run? The voters have already rejected resoundingly obvious candidates such as Bush, Rubio, Christy, etal. Cruz and Kasich, the only alternatives to Trump still alive for the nomination, will likely also fall short in the voters’ minds. Romney is a proven loser. Bloomberg does not want to run, and any other Republican would have to overcome a late start, lack of funds and minimal name recognition.
- Trump supporters, who already harbor a deep distrust of politicians, would perceive the nomination to have been “stolen” from them and would be unlikely to support anyone else.
- I believe that such a decision would fracture the GOP for the foreseeable future.
By the way, does anyone remember back last summer when the big issue was whether or not Trump would support the GOP nominee? If memory serves, that very question was the first one asked at the first debate. How ironic that the situation has completely reversed itself because of Trump’s unexpected success.
The answer to the quiz is George Washington, John Tyler, and Andrew Johnson. Of the three, only GW was elected and served out his two terms as an independent. He was such a hero and consensus choice he didn’t need a party, and in any case I don’t believe the infant nation had any, certainly not as we know it. In the cases of Tyler and Johnson there were extenuating circumstances. Neither was elected in his own right. They were both VPs who ascended to the office upon the death of the President. In addition, both had been booted out of their party, and, for the record, both proved to be among our worst presidents.
The bottom line is that in this quirky election year, the voters have spoken. They have rejected the political establishment of both parties. They feel angry, frustrated, and betrayed. (Recall the famous line from the movie, “Network.”) They don’t want a traditional politician. They want a massive change, and that’s that. How else would one explain the widespread appeal of Trump and Bernie Sanders’ surprising challenge to Hillary Clinton? Trump has a hardcore support of 30-40 percent, not a majority, to be sure, but a solid plurality. They will support him regardless of what he says or does. Ironically, according to Gallup he also has the highest disapproval rating of any candidate ever surveyed. The same polls have disclosed that Clinton also has a high negative rating, so we will likely have an election between two “high negatives,” as it were.
The GOP establishment may not want Trump as its party’s nominee, but they are stuck with him. If he closes the deal in Cleveland I would suggest that they hold their nose and support him, for better or for worse.