Thursday, September 15, 2011

Third Party On Its Way?

NBC's Chuck Todd now predicts, according to Matt Lewis over at the Daily Caller, that if Rick Perry does win the nomination that a third-party presidential candidate will emerge. As near as I can tell, Todd isn't welcoming or advocating for such a thing, just predicting it's likely to happen. It's not a bad call -- but I'd say the same thing applies if Mitt Romney is nominated.

Third party campaigns don't emerge from carefully (or not so carefully) reasoned op-ed pieces from go-gooders. They require a demand for it, which is furnished by unpopular presidents, and a supply, which takes someone crazy enough to do it who meets conventional standards of, let us say, seriousness. The demand side is systematic; the supply side appears to be fairly random. After all, there are probably only a few hundred potential "serious" third party candidates -- leading politicians, mainly, but Ross Perot proved that the right kind of rich person can do it -- and there's no way of knowing which if any will take the plunge, even if the conditions are perfect. Because, after all, this third-party candidate isn't going to win, so why should she do it?

Where we are right now is that the demand side appears to be fulfilled (with Barack Obama at 39% approval today), although of course it's not hard to imagine him winding up reasonably popular in six (or twelve) months.

What I disagree with Todd about is the importance of the challenger. Apparently he compared this election with 1992, and that's exactly right: it appeared that Democrats had a weak field, and then an unproven nominee...until it "suddenly" no longer mattered what the field looked like apart from the nominee, and that the nominee "suddenly" gained stature and charisma and presidentialness.

So, yes, it wouldn't be surprising at all if over the winter it appears that the Republicans are weak and squabbling and not ready to govern, and that someone sees him self as a white knight and swoops into the race as an independent. And then the nominee, whether Perry or Romney, will (if the economy stays terrible or if Obama is otherwise doing poorly) suddenly find his charisma growing, and the party that was hopelessly divided will line up solidly behind him, and all that ideological rhetoric will be replaced by a move to the center. Or, perhaps, we'll go through this cycle knightless, as has sometimes happened in the past. Remember, the supply side of it is basically random. Either way, though, I doubt if it will make much of a difference whether Perry or Romney is nominated.


  1. Good points all and one additional point that Jonathan doesn't raise here is that it's almost unimaginable that the "centre" can spit out a third party candidate.

    Obviously, there won't be a candidate to the right of Rick Perry and I don't see how one can emerge who is to the left of Obama, so logic tells us that it has to emerge from the centre, which of course, is the dream of beltway types while those of us in reality know that such a person (and such a "party") doesn't really exist.

  2. >it's almost unimaginable that the "centre" can spit out a third party candidate.

    Bloomberg would be the obvious choice, and he's made signals about it already. I just suspect he isn't crazy enough to actually follow through.

    From the right, I could see Palin or Trump doing it, but I'm not convinced that either has the slightest interest.

  3. Good point about Bloomberg but then that would almost be a repeat of '92? Meaning, I don't see people to the left of Obama voting for Bloomberg, Obama is already fairly centrist/moderate, so Bloomberg would really be siphoning moderate Republican votes but surely there aren't enough of those to win.

    Kind of like a reverse Ralph Nader.

  4. I get a little tired of belaboring the point, but it's a myth that Perot cost Bush the election. There's considerable evidence that he siphoned off an equal number of votes from both parties.

    There are some polls, however, suggesting that a Bloomberg candidacy might prove more of a problem for Republicans than for Democrats. Unlike Perot, Bloomberg has actually held public office as a Republican, albeit a moderate one.

    Of course, Bloomberg is also a good deal more sane than Perot ever was. Perot's kookiness was probably part of the reason he ran in the first place, but it also ended up hurting him. Who knows how much better he'd have done if he hadn't temporarily dropped out of the race. I doubt he'd have won the election, but he may well have won electoral votes.

    One scenario in which I could imagine Bloomberg causing problems for Obama is if he does well in New York. Even if he doesn't come close to winning the state, he could make the Democrats nervous enough to divert funds and resources from more volatile parts of the country. That scenario still seems a long-shot to me, though.

  5. Nonsense. The GOP will fall in line. Rick Perry will pretend to be a moderate after he wins the nomination and it will be "well, he's better than that Socialist OBAMA!" all over again.

    Republican establishment is smart enough to know that a 3rd party candidate will ruin their chances. They aren't dumb enough to fall for a Ross Perot scenario again.

  6. A centrist third-party challenger would split the vote with Obama and thus hand the election to Perry, the candidate campaigning farther from the center.

    A right-wing third-party challenger (assumes Romney wins the nom) siphons off votes from Romney, handing the election to Obama.

    A left-wing third-party challenger virtually guarantees the election of a Republican, whether Romney or Perry.

  7. Well, a 3rd party challenge to the R candidate would definitely complete the 1980 parallels, as this election shapes up to resemble:

    Reagan-------> Perry

    California---> Texas

    Carter-------> Obama

    Anderson-----> To be determined

    However, it can't be Bloomberg trying to topple Perry/Romney, because he's anathema to all but Wall Street, and states that the R's already have pocketed. He might diminish Romney's poaching in the Northeast, but Romney can win without those states. And Bloomberg wouldn't bother Perry, I suspect, who's probably praying Bloomberg runs, and siphons votes from Obama.

    Now, Rudy, on the other hand, might be a thought. But he's almost parallel to Bloomberg, and plus he had Perry's support last election, so that seems unlikely. And Rudy wants to retire in wealth... he's not gonna want to upset any applecarts.

    To strip votes from Romney/Perry, the 3rd party would likely have to be Paul or Johnson, or somebody of that flavor. The squishy Anderson was fit for his time, vs. the scary Reagan, and took 10% as I recall, but today a more libertarian 3rd party run would be more likely to fit the moment, I believe. If the R candidate stumbles in any way, a libertarian type might pick up as much as 3-4%... maybe more. It might dilute some of the Tea Party influence, the "hang-'em-all" crowd as it were.

  8. I think we limit our options when we speak only in terms of a linear left/right paradigm. What about a candidate who advocates fiscal restraint while telling the religious right to take a hike? That would draw most independents (40% of the electorate, typically fiscally conservative and socially liberal), as well as some Republicans and Democrats that have become disillusioned by the extreme partisanship of the two major parties. I could see either Coburn or Huntsman in that role.

  9. Huntsman would sorta fill the Anderson role, now that you mention it, and complete the 1980 transmogrification to 2012.

  10. I think the more interesting prospect is whether a third party group will recognize what a golden opportunity they have to begin building party infrastructure (peeling major donors off one or both parties, recruiting popular figures to act as representatives of a new political brand, attracting political activists, etc.) in 2012.
    Congress is at record lows, to the point that folks don't want to re-elect their own congressperson (a historically unprecedented circumstance) and both parties are viewed unfavorably in different ways (Democrats are tied to an unpopular President and Republicans are seen as too far-right). If I was someone with the right connections who wanted to remake American politics, I would be recruiting popular and fairly well-known regional politicians around the country to run for Congress and state legislatures (maybe even for a Governor's mansion, if the right circumstances allowed for it) under a new party banner.
    This new party wouldn't need to have a solidified political identity yet... it would just be not-Democrats and not-Republicans. The political platform could be tailored to suit the regional races around the country. My sense is that Americans no longer really know what the political "center" of our system is... this new party would likely be able to define what a "centrist" position would be, going into 2016.


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