Political Parties: Three’s a Crowd?

Despite the dominance of America’s two-party system, our history of Presidential elections is replete with minor party candidates who challenged the front-runners, and, in some instances, directly affected the outcomes. Such was the case in 1912, 1992, and 2016.

1912

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the Presidency in 1901 when William McKinley was assassinated. Teddy served out that term and ran successfully for the top spot in 1904. In 1908 he supported his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft who served one full term before he and Teddy had a falling out. That’s when Roosevelt decided to run for President on the Bull Moose Party ticket against Taft and Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Teddy finished second and spoiled Taft’s re-election bid.

1992

A similar scenario occurred in 1992 when Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton ran against GOP incumbent George H.W. Bush. Billionaire businessman Ross Perot jumped into the race as a third-party candidate, and for several months was leading in the polls. Perot dropped out over security concerns for his family, then re-entered the race late in the contest. Perot finished third, but his 19% of the vote knocked Bush out of a second term.

2016

In 2016, former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was heavily favored over Donald Trump, but several minor party candidates, including Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein, siphoned critical votes away from Hillary in the rust belt, and it was enough to cost Hillary the electoral votes in those states. Though Clinton ran a poor campaign, she still blames Stein for handing the White House to Trump.

In each of these three cases, a third-party candidate successfully spoiled the election (or re-election) of the favored candidate, and that brings us to 2024.

As of this writing, Joe Biden is trailing Trump in every major poll, meanwhile, several groups and high rollers have pledged to do whatever they can to make sure Donald never sets foot in the Oval Office again. Among those is Republican Voters Against Trump, which is planning to spend 50 million dollars on anti-Trump ads. RVAT leader Sarah Longwell told The Hill that the group’s plan is to “Target moderate Republicans and Republican-leaning voters in swing states.”

Meanwhile, several independent party candidates have entered the fray including Robert Kennedy, Jr. who Democrats fear will throw the election to Trump.

And then there’s the bipartisan No Labels Party, whose founding chairman is former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, and whose national co-chairs are civil rights icon Dr. Ben Chavis (a Democrat) and former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (a Republican). I spoke with Pat recently to learn more about No Labels and its strategy.

Jim: Why was No Labels founded?

Jim: No Labels is about to select a bipartisan ticket to run for President and Vice President this fall. Many Democratic leaders say such a ticket will hurt Biden and return Trump to the White House.

Pat: Our surveys show a No Labels ticket will impact Trump and Biden equally.

Jim: The last time a third-party candidate fared well in a Presidential election was Ross Perot in 1992 who ended up with 19% of the vote, but failed to win a single electoral vote.

Pat: Perot was leading Bush and Clinton at 35% before he quit campaigning. At that time, 40% of voters did not want either Bush or Clinton. Today, almost 70% of voters do not want a Trump/Biden re-match of 2020.

Jim: OK, but is No Labels trying to win an election or just trying to make a point?

Pat: We will only field a ticket if we believe there’s a chance to win.

Jim: Do you have a bipartisan ticket in mind?

Pat: I’m not ready to discuss names just yet.

Jim: Potential candidates like Joe Manchin and Niki Haley have declined to join the No Labels ticket.

Pat: There is a tremendous amount of pressure from political parties and super PACs on potential candidates not to run or else they, their donors, and political operatives will be canceled. The two major parties are trying to protect their power and money.

Recent history tells us that a crowded field of candidates favors Donald Trump because it lowers his threshold for victory, and because third-party candidates tend to hurt Democrats more than Republicans. On the other hand, a strong ticket from No Labels might make history and alter that dynamic. The question is, are a majority of Americans ready to break with tradition and elect a third-party candidate as President? We won’t know the answer until November.

 
 

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