Discover more from Bernard Goldberg's Commentary
Disinfectant for the Disaffected?
Talk of a serious third-party presidential candidate doesn't seem as crazy as it once did.
National Review’s Philip Klein wrote an interesting piece the other day about the prospect of a third-party candidate entering the presidential race, should our two major political parties continue down the nomination path they’re currently on.
“Typically, I roll my eyes at the idea,” Klein writes of the argument that such a candidate could be politically viable. “But if we truly are headed for a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the possibility of serious third-party challenge is something I would no longer dismiss out of hand.”
Klein makes clear that he’s still very skeptical of the notion, and he presents obvious challenges that such an individual would face… first and foremost that “Americans do not want to feel like they are throwing their votes away or spoiling the election for the candidate they dislike less.” Still, he sees uncharted political waters ahead regardless, “because we’ve never had two candidates who would both be going into the general election while being so extremely unpopular and facing such severe headwinds.”
Granted, we’ve heard this type of talk before, especially back in 2016 when the country was struggling with Hillary versus Trump. But there was a lot of uncertainty back then, and that’s not so much the case this time. Americans have had firsthand experience with both a Biden presidency and a Trump presidency, and voters are making their voices heard that they don’t want a second dose of either.
Klein cites a CNN poll from last week revealing increasingly bad news for President Biden:
Not only did the survey find Biden unpopular in a lot of the key metrics used to evaluate the chances of incumbent presidents (just 35 percent have a favorable view of Biden, only 39 percent approve of his job, 70 percent say things in the country are going badly), but there are serious concerns about his ability to perform his duties. A whopping 74 percent of respondents, and half of Democrats, said Biden did not have “the stamina and sharpness to serve effectively.” And two-thirds of Democrats said they believe the party should nominate a different candidate.
As for Trump:
Though his four indictments have helped make him the runaway favorite for the GOP nomination, the general voting public does not see his actions after 2020 or his legal problems in the same light. In the dismal CNN poll for Biden, Trump has the same 35 percent favorability rating. A recent Politico/Ipsos poll said that by 51 percent to 26 percent (or nearly two-to-one), voters said Trump was guilty of crimes in connection with the 2020 election-subversion case. The argument that the Department of Justice has weaponized law enforcement to target a political opponent has less resonance outside of a Republican primary, with 59 percent of voters (and 64 percent of independents) saying the DOJ’s decision to indict was fair.
Klein cites more data supporting the electorate’s dirt-low views of these two, including a recent CNN poll showing that 36%, a plurality of Americans, view both candidates unfavorably. For some perspective, only 3% of voters in 2012 said they viewed both Obama and Romney unfavorably.
So, it would seem that if there were ever a feasible opportunity for a third-party candidate to rise to the occasion (something the two major political parties currently aren’t doing), that time would be next year. In fact, a group called No Labels is already working diligently on that front.
Could it work? Can a third-party presidential candidate be successful? I highly doubt it for a myriad of reasons, including ballot accessibility (though No Labels is on it), deeply partisan states in the electoral college, and the aforementioned “spoiler” concern. And to have even a snowball's chance in hell, the third-party candidate would have to be strong — not simply stronger than Biden and Trump (that’s an extremely low hurdle to clear), but so sharp, well-spoken, and relevantly experienced that voters would sense real viability outside of our two-party system.
But frankly, I’d much prefer we not even have to find out. I’d much rather the parties flip the script and spare our nation from a choice between the mentally impaired and the mentally deranged.
Republicans have a golden opportunity (not the first one they’ve squandered) to buck Trump, and nominate someone who’s fit for office, not facing criminal charges, cares about (and would take seriously their oath to defend) the Constitution, and hasn’t proven themself to be electorally toxic over the last three election cycles.
Things are more complicated for the Democrats, but if party leaders aren’t already working behind the scenes on a serious contingency plan (something better than Kamala Harris stepping in), in the event that Biden has a profound mental or physical misstep, they’re committing political malpractice. The much safer play would be convincing him to end his re-election campaign tomorrow, which no one expects to happen.
But if neither party is interested in doing right by the country, and would rather self-bludgeon at the feet of their current standard-bearers, we may just find out what a serious third-party contender looks like.
And I’m not as sure as I once was that it would be a bad thing.