Monday, May 9th, 2016

By Reed Galen

Quote by a Smart Person: "Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." John Quincy Adams

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Among Republican pundits, operatives and activists, three conversations have been on rinse and repeat this year. The first is how to stop Trump. The second is how to come to grips with Trump (the stages of grief column that I and 7,200 other people have written.) And the third, making its comeback last week, is the third party/independent savior discussion. Talk of a third party bid pushed its way up Twitter and into the New York Times after long-time conservative mouthpiece Bill Kristol shared a bottle of water with Governor Mitt Romney at a Washington, DC hotel and then promptly went and told everyone about it. Two versions of the meeting exist: Kristol trying to convince Romney to throw his hat in the ring. The follow up to that was Kristol trying to ramp up Mitt enough to get behind another candidate, specifically Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. But to what end is Kristol, or anyone else, starting or propagating these stories? And how would an independent bid work anyway?

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. Courtesy Gage Skidmore

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. Courtesy Gage Skidmore

Goals? We Don’t Need No Stinking Goals!

So as a Republican you’ve decided you’re #NeverTrump and aren’t in the #I’mWithHer camp. Do you turn to the Libertarian party as a lifeboat in an otherwise Titanc-ish election year? Do you believe Gary Johnson can strip away enough votes from Trump or Hillary to make a difference? Too early to tell, but unlikely. But there are still Republicans out there who we can a) get behind and b) theoretically could mount some sort of independent bid. But to what end? Here the already rapidly dividing GOP Establishment (they’re making yeast look lazy) is again at loggerheads. Do you try and run someone who can scoop up enough Electoral Votes to deny both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the requisite 270 vote majority and throw it to the House of Representatives?

If this is your goal, you are trying to complete the toughest political bank shot in human history. Or are you trying to give those down ballot races, the vulnerable House and Senate candidates, someone and something other than Donald Trump they can get behind? Does that mean only attempting to qualify in states with targeted races - like Ohio, Pennsylvania or New Hampshire? As this would be the first time anyone would try this, who’s to say it would work?

Texas On My Mind

If you’ve found a candidate and decided on a goal, the calendar still makes things difficult. Today, Monday, May 9th is the deadline in Texas for independent candidates to turn in the following things:

  • 80,000 signatures of voters who did not participate in either the Republican nor Democratic primary election on March 1st.
  • The name and ascent of your vice presidential nominee.
  • The names of the 38 electors who would represent you in the Electoral College should you win the popular vote in the Lone Star State.

Given the deadline to deliver all this is 5 pm Central Time today, any independent bid is likely to have to compete without the biggest, most solidly red state available to them. Without Texas, can you be taken seriously as a national conservative alternative?

Most of the rest of the states don’t have deadlines until June, July or August, so it is technically possible to qualify in those places. But if a candidate has not yet put together the organization, it’s hard to see how they can realistically get it done. All this activity is staff-intensive (read: expensive) and must be paid for with hard dollars at the $2,700/per person limit. Making the argument that the donor community might get behind you, organizing the field staff to circulate petitions and the army of lawyer’s you’d need to get it done would facilitate running a campaign unlike anything anyone has ever seen, let alone contemplated. Does that much imagination currently exist?

Law, Lawyers and Lawyering

My Twitter feed blew up when I said an independent candidate didn’t have time to qualify for enough states to get to 270. As I said above, they theoretically could. Several lawyers said that the deadlines in many of the states could be challenged and even likely overturned. However, trading emails with some excellent political attorneys, it also appears that if, like in Texas, you haven’t already been trying to qualify for a given state’s ballot, you may not even have standing to bring suit. Saying “I just didn’t get going in time,” is not likely a winning argument. Not to mention, as most states are dominated by one major party or the other, the local attorney general may fight tooth and nail to keep their systems in place. Even a cursory reading of most of the requirements for an independent bid for president show they are only thinly veiled protection measures for Democrats and Republicans.

Even if you found a judge or court to hear your case, there’s no guarantee, even on a fast-tracked docket, that it would be a fast process. And while you’re awaiting hearings and arguments from both sides, and while motions fly back and forth, the putative campaign is left treading water. Do they continue to put resources into a state or states in which their ballot-position is even remotely in doubt? This isn’t three-dimensional chess. It’s that crazy game they used to play in 10 Forward on Star Trek the Next Generation.

Core Values

The only real effect a truly well-funded and well-run third party bid by a former Republican would have would be to split the GOP into factions for some period of time. The entire national GOP apparatus is set up to help Republican candidates. It’s not designed to help disaffected conservatives who’ve decided the nominee is a disaster. While the Republican National Committee could decline to help Trump in the traditionally meaningful ways (Victory account fundraising and data) they’re not going to get behind Sen. Sasse or anyone else. They’d be left twisting in the wind as millions of voters pulled 310 1st Street in one direction and the operative/donor class attempted to pull them in another.

This doesn’t include what happens to all those junior staffers and campaigners who believed they were making their bones in the GOP. If they go rogue, what does that mean for them? It’s likely less important for older, more established operatives for whom campaigning is a piece of their business but not central to making a living. A viable third-party run opens up a panoply of consequences that few, if any of us can imagine today. And we haven’t even gotten into what Donald Trump would do in response.


AuthorReed Galen