Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Indie Cred

So apparently within seconds of when I finished my Chris Christie item, news broke that he's not running after all. Since this is about the 32nd time we've heard that news there's no way yet to know whether it will take or not, and we still have Sarah Palin to contend with, but we're only a few weeks away from ending the quadrennial "who will run for the nomination" rumors.

Which means it's time for "who will run as an independent?" speculation.

So be prepared for that. Just to put a little timeline to it -- Ross Perot's 1992 campaign was launched with a February 20, 1992 appearance on the Larry King show. My vague impression is that ballot access laws are somewhat easier to overcome now than they were than (although I'm nothing close to an expert and could be entirely wrong); certainly it is a lot easier to quickly mobilize a whole bunch of people in 2012 than it was in 1992. And John Anderson dropped out of the 1980 Republican nomination contest to run as a third-party candidate in April. So depending on laws and all that, we could see speculation from now until, say, May. If it turns out that the GOP contest is long and hard-fought, it's very possible that both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry could suffer poor approval ratings for a while, which should encourage such speculation, especially if Barack Obama's approval rating stays right around 40% or drops further.

Will it happen? Stan Greenberg recently said (in an otherwise recommended interview) that "Somebody will run as an independent in 2012. You don’t have 80 percent of voters saying we’re on the wrong track and not have an independent candidate." I think that's much too strong. The conditions are certainly in place for a third-party candidate, as they are whenever the president is beatable. But that doesn't mean someone will actually do it. For incumbent politicians and those who wish to win office in the future, it means burning the bridges to their current party, something that has potentially high costs. And for non-politicians...well, it's not clear how many of them could put up a Perot-type campaign. They either have to be rich enough (and willing to spend it) to buy themselves a serious presidential campaign, or else have some other way to get enough of the press to take them seriously that they can mobilize all those people needed to get on ballots and run a campaign.  And there are serious costs, too -- you better have paid all your taxes properly, and better not have any skeletons in your closet.

And after all, you aren't going to win, and may well make a total fool of yourself.

Which doesn't mean we won't get a non-trivial 3rd party or independent candidate in 2012; it's just that there's really no way to predict whether anyone will do it, even if the conditions are excellent for someone to get, say, 5% to 20% of the vote.

But speculation, we'll get.


  1. As has been pointed for the umpteenth time, Bloomberg is a possibility. He's rich, he's currently an independent (so bridge-burning is less of a problem for him), and unlike Perot he has not only held public office but is fairly popular.

    I still have a hunch that he isn't crazy enough to do it.

  2. Bloomberg, maybe? As a lifelong Democrat who's served as a Republican for nine years, he's the only person in the country who really needs a third party.

  3. Once it becomes clear that Ron Paul is eliminated from contention for the Republican nomination (which may take a while this time around because of rule changes and his taking over of 3rd place in many primary polls) I think he's likely to accept the nomination of the libertarian party. They'll give it to him, its the cheapest path to ballot access, he's already announced he's not going to seek another congressional term and he has few friends in the Republican elite he hasn't already alienated, so its not as big a concern for him.

    Also, Ron Paul has recently re-positioned himself on abortion as pro-life, which indicates to me that he's willing to compromise on some of his stances and thus is in it to win it this time.

  4. Most likely: Nader, yet again. His appetite for attention seems insatiable.

    Also possible: Huntsman.

    Most interesting: Either a Perry or a Romney nomination could effectively split the GOP. There are a lot of old-fashioned conservatives out there who just can't stand the fundies that have taken control of the party. How about Perry gets the nomination, and Coburn goes independent?

    Finally, I wouldn't totally dismiss the chances of a third-party candidate. Yes, they would lack the reliable funding sources of the major parties, not having had time to market their souls to special interests. However, if the GOP nominates a zealot and the economy doesn't improve, I think all bets are off. They could conceivably take a state or two, leading to a very interesting electoral college.

  5. >Ron Paul has recently re-positioned himself on abortion as pro-life

    He has always been pro-life, even back in 1988 when he was nominated by the Libertarian Party (which generally supports abortion rights).

  6. Bloomberg.

    Is abortion a dying issue for GOP voters? Economy may trump it.

  7. Bloomberg has the money, but he has a lot of other problems:

    -- He agrees with Obama on virtually everything.

    -- Where he does disagree, he is positioned all wrong for swing voters -- he thinks Obama has been too tough on Wall Street, but hasn't done enough on gun control. That should give him the Upper East Side.

    -- He is the personification of the very unpopular financial industry.

    -- He is short, divorced, Jewish, and a fervent supporter of same-sex marriage. Not exactly Middle America.

    -- Not charismatic. Not crazy. So he's not Perot.

    Ron Paul and Ralph Nader both seem like potential candidates, but ones that would appeal to small segments of the electorate.

    I do think Stanley Greenberg did devise the most plausible independent candidate: a businessman from outside the financial sector, who is strongly nationalist and anti-China. Perhaps with a few out-of-the-box stances (Legalization of marijuana? Out of Afghanistan now? Some sort of drastic action against Wall Street? Some sort of protectionism?) that neither of the two parties are likely to take.

  8. charlie: "Is abortion a dying issue for GOP voters?"

    That's a very interesting question. Now that you mention it, I think abortion may be a dying issue for a lot of voters. We may finally be moving toward reasonable consensus on that one.

    (Sorry about the off-topic comment.)

  9. As a nuanced Obama supporter, I'd love to see the Libertarians go all out for Paul in '12, thanks for handing Obama re-election.

    Yet does a Libertarian candidacy really count as Independent 3rd Party? It's third, all right, yet there's no independence of a very particular ideological stance that creates a mythology over ideas of a "free market" that have never really been a historical reality anywhere. (I would argue that even in the relatively libertarian paradises of Somalia and Afghanistan local warlords & power brokers keep what markets exist from being very "free.")

    Speculation on 3rd Parties led by presidential candidates who will be "saviours" is just another instance of our over-emphasis on Presidential personalities (extended discussion available at my site). Every marginal voter has firm ideas on ideal Presidential candidates (and idiosyncratic reasons for rejecting other Presidential candidates).

    Change will come when people can get excited about the hard work of running primary and general campaigns against sitting Congresspersons, state executives and state legislators whose selfishness, fealty to donors and cronyism is doing so much to grind down prosperity and democracy.

  10. As long as the primary process is open, it's going to be pretty hard for zesty independent candidates to get any traction. The 2 main party candidates will always be willing to trim their sails, while also parrying challenges from their flank, and open primaries facilitate the trimming and parrying. The R candidates know they can ignore Paul and Johnson for example, because like Don Corleone, they're enemies being kept closer than friends. And open primaries would seem to ensure that those enemies will be garroted come primary election day.

    An independent candidate would often have to be self funding, so Bloomberg always comes to mind, but not only can't he win, he'd forgo the opportunity to manipulate a win by somebody he favors (and he's partisan only to his own interests, so that's not at all party specific).

    Paul has to protect his son's political career, and so can't really jump to the Libertarians. He'd take some votes if he did, no doubt, with his name recognition. And as there are a fair amount throughout the political spectrum who view Obama as a crony corporatist, the Naderites and others, it wouldn't be certain which of the 2 major parties he'd hurt worst. Could be a wash. Or not.

    Palin could take some votes as well, with her name recognition. Even the eventual R nominee will have to privately kowtow to the Sarahcuda, because she literally holds his/her fate in her hands, if she threatens to peel off even 2-3 points from his/her popular vote. They won't want to cross her, for fear she gets into a caribou-skinning frame of mind.

  11. Paul has to protect his son's political career, and so can't really jump to the Libertarians.

    Rand Paul's career is in the hands of the people of Kentucky, who are demonstrably crazy enough to prolong it indefinitely

  12. Until the GOP primary shakes out, we won't have a clue about third party nominations. If Romney wins, there is a small but significant anti-Romney strain of conservatism that would coalesce around a right wing third party. The standard-bearer wouldn't matter much, as long as he/she isn't Mormon or shaky on social issues.

    Also, remember that lots of prominent conservatives make more money under a Democratic president (the outrage machine).


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