A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
February 28th, 2010
By Tom Carter
Will there be a serious third-party candidate in the 2012 presidential campaign? The way things are going, it’s beginning to look like that could happen. If it does, it will be a right-wing third party, its candidate will not win, and it may well guarantee the re-election of Barack Obama. Let’s look at the indicators.
The Tea Party movement isn’t really an extension of the Republican Party — in fact, tea partiers are almost as unhappy with Republicans as they are with Democrats. Ron Paul, famously more libertarian than conventional conservative, won the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) presidential straw poll, beating out Mitt Romney. Sarah Palin, the conservativish darling of the Tea Party, didn’t even show up at CPAC, underscoring the idea that the Tea Party movement is one thing, the conservatives and the Republican Party something else. CPAC itself, for that matter, seemed caught between the two.
Nothing similar is happening on the left. There’s dissatisfaction with President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress, some of it strong, but there’s no popular movement on the left for them to turn to, and there’s no candidate-in-waiting. Beyond that, Democrats are more likely to grasp the fact that a leftist third-party candidacy would do little more than hurt them.
No third party has won the presidency, and there’s no reason to believe it will ever happen. In the history of third-party candidacies, however, a few have been strong enough to win a good percentage of the popular vote and a few electoral votes. In 1912 Teddy Roosevelt, candidate of the Progressive (Bullmoose) Party, won 27.5 percent of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes. In 1992 Ross Perot, candidate of the Reform Party, won 19 percent of the popular vote but no electoral votes. And these are the strongest third-party showings in history.
What’s more important, however, is the possibility that a third-party candidate will siphon votes from the major party candidate on his or her side of the political spectrum. There has been speculation that Perot pulled enough votes from Bush to ensure the election of Clinton in 1992, but it seems likely that didn’t happen. But look at what a much weaker third-party candidate did in 2000 — it’s pretty clear that the 97,000 people in Florida who voted for Ralph Nader, candidate of the Green Party, would have mostly gone for Al Gore if Nader had not been in the race. That would have elected Al Gore president and sent George Bush back home to Texas.
So to all those on the right — Republicans, anti-Republican conservatives, tea partiers, libertarians, and what-not — think long and hard before you wish for a right-wing third-party candidate for president in 2012. What that might get you is four more years of the Obama Administration.
If Obama makes progress in his on-the-job training and improves between now and 2012, he’ll be a formidable candidate. However, if the Republicans keep their wits about them and nominate a serious, capable candidate like Romney with a running mate who isn’t a goofball, it could go either way. If the Republicans nominate someone like Sarah Palin — well, heck, bring on the third party. The Republicans won’t win anyway, and at least the campaign will be more entertaining.
Paul burned by Tea Party blowback, Politico
What is the history of “third parties” in the United States?, ThisNation.com
What Sarah Palin Doesn’t Know by Dorothy Rabinowitz, The Wall Street Journal
Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right by David Barstow, The New York Times
The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged by Frank Rich, The New York Times
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