In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s stunning presumptive Republican 2016 presidential nomination, a small group of #NeverTrump advocates have been pressing forward with an attempt to recruit a third party candidate. According to The Washington Post, Republicans including Bill Kristol, Erick Erickson, Mike Murphy, Stuart Stevens, and Rick Wilson have been throwing out names. Those names include Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), Ohio Governor John Kasich, retired General James Mattis, and even – most ridiculously – reality television billionaire Mark Cuban.
A viable third party candidate could achieve two things for conservatives who oppose Trump: it could consolidate support outside the Trump movement, providing the core for a rebuilding movement post-Trump; it could theoretically throw a few key states to that third party candidate, preventing both Hillary Clinton and Trump from winning the requisite number of electors to gain the White House and throwing the process into the House of Representatives.
Here’s the case against doing any of this.
It Won’t Work. In 1992, Ross Perot won 18.9 percent of the popular vote – and zero electoral votes. In 1980, John Anderson won 6.6 percent of the popular vote – and zero electoral votes. In 1968, George Wallace won 13.5 percent of the electoral vote – and won 46 electoral votes, all in the deep south. The chances of a third party candidate doing significant enough damage in key swing states to siphon off electoral votes are slim and none.
It Appears Desperate. Because it's unlikely to work, it seems like a Hail Mary to find someone who can stop Trump and Hillary. If it fails, that will minimize the level of opposition to both the candidates. #NeverTrump isn't desperate. We realize that Trump is a disaster for the GOP and the country, and that Hillary is a disaster for the country. We don't need to prove it by attempting to consolidate in a way that fails.
It’s Difficult To Find A Conservative Who Can Unify #NeverTrump. Trump’s utter incomprehensibility as a Republican candidate underscores the fact that finding a consensus politician is hard. And all successful politicians have to build consensus. Kasich and Ben Sasse, for example, have very little in common politically other than their opposition to Trump. Would that be enough to consolidate a serious conservative opposition, or would it fragment that opposition by providing an alternative unpalatable to many members of #NeverTrump?
Let Them Burn. The Trumpsters are desperately looking for an excuse to blame anybody but themselves for the looming electoral disaster that may await Trump. They’re already stating that #NeverTrump will bear the responsibility for Trump’s failures. Consolidating a third party opposition would grant unmerited credibility to this argument. If Trump goes down – and betting markets think he will – then the Trump advocates need to own it. No need to give them an out.
Think 2020. Better to sit this one out than be blamed for Trump’s failures or cast out of the party altogether. This will be four years in the wilderness for conservatives. But building an alternative party infrastructure is unlikely – far more difficult than allowing Trump to demonstrate what a historic black swan he is, then fighting for control of the GOP once again.
I’d be happy to vote for Senator Sasse over Trump or Hillary, of course; I’d like another choice. But the strategic case against a third party is strong. As HL Mencken said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” So let the Trumpsters get it good and hard.