Third Party Candidates Might Make Things Interesting Out West

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But There’s No Way They’ll Earn Ralph Nader’s Title of ‘Spoiler’

The presidential election of 2000 still manages to occupy a tiny speck of bile in my throat. After all these years, I still can’t spit it out.

You remember that election: Bush and Gore going head-to-head post-election for Florida’s electoral votes…500 votes apart…both party’s lawyers invading the Sunshine State…the vote recount introducing the term “hanging chad” to our lexicon…the US Supreme Court finally stepping in to hand the presidency to George W. Bush.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane and have Vanity Fair capture the biggest outrage:

The one obvious, indisputable problem was Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot…in which the names of the candidates appeared on facing pages with sets of holes down the center for voters to punch. Bush’s name appeared first, on the left-hand page, with Gore’s name directly below. The second hole, however, was for Pat Buchanan, whose name was first on the right-hand page. Buchanan won 3,407 votes in Palm Beach County…around 2,600 more than he received in any other county in Florida. The irony was rich. Many of these voters were elderly Jews, thrilled to be voting for Joe Lieberman, the first Jew on a presidential ticket. Instead the confusing design had led them to cast their vote for a [far right-wing] Holocaust trivializer…Buchanan himself admitted that many of the votes cast for him had been cast in error.

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This whole gut-wrenching drama, which occupied 36 days of intense news coverage, probably would not have happened but for one character: Ralph Nader. The liberal icon ran on the Green party ticket and won 97,488 votes in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. Those voters were not fans of W. Take away Nader, and Al Gore wins Florida in a cakewalk and the presidency.

The consumer advocate who saved many lives in the sixties with his best-selling book on auto safety, Unsafe at Any Speed, is now mainly known as The Spoiler. It’s actually a damn shame.

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It’s All Over But the Shouting

It seems obvious now that Hillary Clinton will win an overwhelming majority in the electoral college on November 8, and become the first woman president of the US. According to polling prodigy FiveThirtyEight, HRC currently has an 89 percent chance of beating Donald Trump and the other third partiers I will mention.

The US electoral system has never been kind to third party candidates. They are mostly regarded as a wasted vote. At the same time, our two-party system has been a source of frustration for Americans who desire an alternative to Democratic or Republican candidates. But only twice in our history did a third party candidate win more than a token amount of electoral votes.

With Donald Trump damaged goods and Hillary Clinton, fair or not, regarded a relic of the Washington establishment, you’d think that 2016 would be a perfect time for a third party candidate to emerge. But the pickings turned out to be as thin as gruel. It’s hard to imagine any of them would have an impact.

Well…

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A Western Showdown?

There are two third party candidates in the 2016 presidential election that have a slight chance to be consequential to the outcome (I’ll bet you haven’t heard of one):

  • Gary Johnson. The Libertarian Party candidate who couldn’t name one living head of state was having another Aleppo moment…but there doesn’t seem to be any disqualifiers in this election. Forget about those shout-outs to Bernie Sanders supporters. Except for a few suburban attitudes on pot and gay rights, Johnson is an ideological copy of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (except for the Eddie Munster widow’s peak). The thing is, the two-term governor or New Mexico has a shot of winning his home state. A recent poll by the Albuquerque Journal newspaper had HRC beating Trump, 35-31 percent, with Johnson right behind at 24 percent.
  • Evan McMullin, a native of Provo, Utah, some dude you’ve never heard of, is on the ballot in 11 states running as an independent conservative. McMullin has all the bonafides of a Utah favorite son: BYU, foreign service in the Mormon church, a former CIA officer. Utah is a conservative state, but Trump struck a discordant chord in Mormon country with his reckless talk of deportation and religious tests. Mormons have long memories of American history, and more than a few had to be thinking: Are we next? A poll released October 11 had HRC and Trump tied at 26 percent, with McMullin at 22 percent.
An Unlikely Scenario: The Only Republican Path to the Presidency

Donald Trump hit the final nail in his electoral coffin during the third debate when he said petulantly that he could possibly not accept the results of the election…unless he was the winner. But it’s not just his temperament, the misogyny, the bully-boy racism and us-vs.-them negativity. Trump never bothered to expand his support beyond his base of “deplorables” who propelled him to the Republican nomination.

But with Hillary Clinton’s unfavorables still high among working-class voters, Trump has a slim chance to pick off battleground states such as Ohio, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina and Nevada. If she were to somehow lose all of those states (and with New Mexico’s electoral votes off the table), HRC would have 268 electoral votes counting all blue states. That’s two short of the 270 votes Hillary would need to win.

In an election where no candidate earns a majority in the electoral college, the 12th amendment to our Constitution dictates that the top three vote-getters are sent for a scrum in the US House of Representatives. Given that the House is majority Republican and Trump is extremely unpopular among the party establishment, there is a decent chance that one of the two third party candidates named above would win the presidency.

What a nightmare. Have I given you one more reason to vote on election day?

Theodore Roosevelt, second from your right, was the most successful third party president...but lost.

Theodore Roosevelt, second from your right, was the most successful third party candidate…but lost.

 

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Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of Enter, Stage Left.

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