Invasion of the Party Snatchers

With Donald Trump now the presumptive nominee, a growing chorus of prominent Republicans are calling for a third-party candidate. They already have one.

Donald Trump.

He just happened to have run as a Republican.

I hate using the word “brilliant” when it comes to The Donald. But from a strategic standpoint, running as a Republican was exactly that. Third party candidates running for President never win. Donald Trump didn’t do that. Instead, by running as a Republican he successfully hijacked the party for his own purposes. It’s a fascinating case study from a political science standpoint on how independent candidates can break through and win. Just use the party apparatus against the party itself.

Trump did what Ross Perot didn’t do in 1992. Perot, another billionaire who thought he deserved to be President, ran against Bill Clinton and George H. Bush. Like Trump, Perot wasn’t big on policy. When asked what his plans were for fixing the deficit and economy, Perot replied, “There’s plans lying all over the place.”

In the general election that year, Perot managed to win nearly 19 percent of the popular vote, the most since Teddy Roosevelt won 27 percent as a third party Progressive candidate in 1912.

Perot still lost, just as Roosevelt did. Like all third party candidates do. The rules and the system are simply stacked too much against them.

Trump fits the perfect third party candidate mold. He’s an outsider. Not a politician. He’s rich, so he can fund his own campaign. And his ideas don’t fit the traditional policy platforms of either party. Liberal on some things, like trade, and hotly conservative on others, like banning Muslims from entering the United States. He’s an enigma.

He’s exactly the type of guy that would run as a third party candidate. But he must have read a few history books. He realized that’s a failed strategy no matter how much money you spend. (Note to former Mayor of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.)

Instead Trump used the Republican Party as his vehicle to get the nomination. His populist message and “shoot from the lip” personality transcended the traditional conservative landscape, making him the candidate of choice among a very pissed off segment of the Republican Party rank-in-file already inclined to support his type of candidacy.

Funny thing. It almost happened to the Democrats as well. Think about it: Bernie Sanders isn’t really a Democrat. He’s an independent. In fact when Bernie ran for Congress in 1989, as an independent, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he referred to the two major political parties as “tweedle-dee” and “tweedle-dum.” He’s never been a fan of either party. He’s been a legitimate political outsider for more than 40 years. He just came up a little short this year.

So here’s what we have to look forward to come November: For the first time in 162 years, the Republican Party isn’t fielding a candidate. Not really. The race for President is going to be between a Democrat, and an Independent, one who just happens to carry the label of Republican.

That’s tough for a lot of Republican leaders to stomach. Hence the growing pressure to field a “real Republican” as a third party alternative. Mainstream Republicans want “back in.” The dilemma is that doing so will only split the Republican vote further and hand Hillary Clinton the keys to the White House.

But at this point, does it really make a difference? I think not. Clinton is going to win. Trump is not getting elected President. So Republicans might as well support someone like John Kasich to run as the “real” Republican standard bearer. Maybe even plan a “counter-convention” across the street in Cleveland with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan presiding. At least that way Republicans can save face. And maybe also save a few of their down ballot candidates as well.

David Paine
About the author: 

Based in Southern California, David Paine is the President of 9/11 Day, the nonprofit that annually organizes the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance (“9/11 Day), which became a federally-recognized day of service in 2009, with passage of the bipartisan ServeAmerica Act. Today 9/11 Day is the nation’s largest annual day of charitable service, with more than 35 million people observing September 11 by engaging in good deeds, volunteering and supporting charitable causes of their choosing.  In addition to his leadership role at 9/11 Day, David is the Chief Innovation Officer at Paineacs, a marketing incubator.  Follow 9/11 Day on Twitter.