A third party candidate could monkey wrench the election, but not how you think

For the first time, in a long time, people are burbling about a looming third-party candidacy for the U.S. Presidency, one that might have a chance of succeeding.

What do Theodore Roosevelt (left) and Ross Perot have in common?

People are burbling because polls are showing some 70% of Americans do not want a Joe Biden/Donald J. Trump rematch, which is speeding down the track like the Acela.

People say they want something else, and may be willing to turn to an alternative with a name not followed by a D or an R.

If they do, it would be the first time a third party succeeded, although we have had one independent, non affiliated president: George Washington. That worked out pretty well.

Aside from him, the most successful third-party candidate was Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1912 ran as the Bull Moose Party candidate and got 27.4% of the vote, more than Republican Howard Taft, who got only 23.2%. They both lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who won with 41.8%. 

The second highest percentage was claimed by Millard Fillmore, who got 22% in 1856.

Third place? Ross Perot with 18.9% in 1992, probably resulting in George W. Bush losing to Bill Clinton.

Running as an independent today is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is getting around 15% in national polls, even before most Americans know he is running. I could see him easily in the mid-20s, or more.

Waiting in the wings is the No Labels group that is dedicated to beating Trump and has said it will fold if it feels it is stealing so many Democratic votes as to elect Trump. No Labels does not have a candidate yet, but a couple of names have been floated: West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, and 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Former Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has been dropping hints, yet hemming and hawing. 

Of course, there are many other parties that rarely achieve success — Green, Libertarian, Democratic Socialist, Constitution, Natural Law.

No matter how well a third-party candidate does in the popular vote, it doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is how many electoral votes the candidate gets. 

In 1992, Perot got 19.7 million votes and zero electoral college votes. None. Zilch. His candidacy pulled votes from Bush, and allowed Clinton to win some states’ electoral votes he might not have otherwise had. Clinton was elected with less than half of the popular vote. In 2016, Hilary Clinton was not elected with more than half of the popular vote, which is why it is politically meaningless.

But let’s say this year some candidate — Kennedy, Manchin, Cornel West — actually manages to grab a few electoral college votes.

Those most likely would come from Maine and Nebraska, the only two states that are not winner take all. They award their electoral college votes  — Maine has 4, Nebraska has 5 — proportionately to the percent of the popular vote each candidate receives.

Granted, this is a long shot, but in a very tight election, such as 2024 is expected to be, a third-party candidate might siphon off enough electoral votes to prevent either Biden or Trump from reaching the 270 needed for victory.

What happens then? Glad you asked.

The House of Representatives selects a President from among the top three finishers.

And since the House has a (slight) Republican majority, you would expect them to elect Trump.

Unless Democrats could bribe sweet talk a few Republicans into voting for Biden.

Possible? Yes. But Republicans would also try to buy off a few Democrats. This process would put a Baghdad bazaar to shame.

Most likely outcome? The House selects Trump.

But this scenario is more fun to think about than to plan for.

It is very unlikely.

24 thoughts on “A third party candidate could monkey wrench the election, but not how you think”

  1. Does ANYONE want a rematch between a raving lunatic and a borderline Alzheimer’s patient? I would vote for a third-party candidate IF that candidate were of presidential material.

  2. I am not likely to vote for a 3rd party candidate for the exact reasons you outlined. While, I like most of America do not want a Biden-Mar A Lardo rematch, it certainly seems that’s what we’re getting. And I’ve said before, I’ll vote for the Philly Phonetic before I’ll vote for The Orange One.

      1. How can Biden tell a story he cannot even remember? I find his dreamlike state to be very frightening (for the safety of our nation)..

          1. Hasn’t anyone noticed that Trump is in steep decline? Forgot we already fought WWII, thinks Nikki Haley is Nancy Pelosi, can’t remember what state/city he is in, mixes up George and Jeb Bush, thinks he ran against Obama instead of Biden or Hilary, thinks Orban is the prime minister of Turkey, thinks Hamas is “hummus” (hummus is yummy, Hamas is not) and thought a picture of the woman suing him, Carroll (“not his type”), was his ex-wife Marla Maples. Can’t wait for the debates.

        1. Bull. Stu knows fact from fiction. You do not. All you need to do is look at the economic numbers, inflation numbers, the rising wages of the middle class, and the return of manufacturing to the United States, something everyone has been clamoring about for decades. But you won’t because your mind (if you even have one, which I highly doubt) is completely closed. Nobody is saying that Biden is perfect by any means. But in any comparison between him and a rapist/criminal/91 counts of indictment/moron/classified document thief backed by a political party who does NOTHING, the choice is damned easy. You vote for an ORGANIZATION, and the Democrats obviously are more competent than that shit show in Congress.

  3. To me, if it comes down to a selection between Trump and Biden, it’s akin to offering us all an execution by lethal injection or electric chair.

    1. Except for the lies told by the corrupt media and the democrats Trump had a very successful presidency. Even Stu has bragged about many of Trumps accomplishments. We have all witnessed Biden’s many failures. Can’t wait to see Stu point out Biden’s accomplishments and how he’s made life better for the American people.

  4. I believe before questioning who the 3rd party candidates are and their effect on the presidential election, we should ask who are the replacement candidates for both Republican and Democratic Party. Age, health and dementia must be considered for both candidates. Secondly are their running mates up to the tasks of being president of the US. Some parts of the Democratic base those requesting climate change policies, young African Americans, Palestinian supporters have lost enthusiasm for Joe Biden. On the Republican side the Never Trump group along with moderate independent voters whose support for trump has faded. Trump has some financial issues that will be effecting his candidacy along with the results of his criminal trial. The Koch family money has dried up for Trump. I believe one or both candidates could be replaced by the time of their political conventions. For me it is political theater at its best.

  5. Don’t forget George Wallace got 45 electoral votes on only 13.5% of the national vote. He won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Wallace’s actual aim was to get the election thrown in the House of Representatives, where he hoped he could leverage the Democratic “Dixiecrats” to extract concessions to end federal desegregation efforts.

    Just a detail on the House election. When nobody gets a majority in the electoral college, the House votes–but not as individual members. Instead, each state delegation votes, and then casts the state’s vote. It is not majority of congressmen, but the majority of the state delegations that cast the vote. States like Wyoming, North Dakota and Vermont’s with one member delegations would get the same vote as the states sending 10, 20, 30 or 50 people to Congress. As it stands, the GOP controls 26 state delegations, presumably giving Trump a win, but it would be the 2024 Congress, not the 2022 one that casts the votes. The “sweet talk” would be to the small or single member state delegations that would wield enormous power, and of course, members in those states whose delegations are evenly split. Does an evenly split state abstain, or does someone flip?

    Oh, and the Senate picks the VP, possibly resulting in the top two posts being held by different parties. Trump-Harris would an be an interesting duo. Or maybe Biden-Noem, if the House and Senate each flip, which seems possible.

    And, then there is the problem if the House deadlocks–say, for instance, the vote is split three ways between Trump, Biden and Kennedy. If the House can’t get a majority of state delegations to agree on a president by January 20, then the
    Senate-chosen VP “acts as president” until the House gets it act together. But if the Senate is deadlocked and does not choose a VP by Jan 20 as well, then Congress is called upon to determine by statute who shall “act as president” pending a majority winner. This means that then the House votes by individual representative, instead of by state for an acting president, which could mean a different majority–but still needs the Senate on board for the decision.

    My suspicion is that RFK Jr, will slide down, rather than up. Or if he goes up, slide way down by the election. Early on, Perot led both Bush and Clinton in the polls, coming in at 37% while Bush and Clinton were tied with 24% apiece. Perot only had to be a little wacky and gaffe-y to see his support plummet. RFK Jr is certainly a bit wacky and gaffe-y. Also, the polls I’ve seen say that he is drawing equally from Trump and Biden voters, which means that he will be attacked by both candidates. Once the GOP and Dem knives come out, I doubt he will be able to continue to coast on the Kennedy name.

    1. What a wakeup call! I, of course, knew George Wallace had run, meant to include him, got distracted and it just dropped from my mind.
      He was a great example of how an election could be kicked to the House.
      And thanks for the additional detail of how the VP gets picked, and how a deadlock gets broken.

  6. Trump will win, like it or not. If Desantis ran a better campaign he might be in the running. All in all with age and health issues we might be looking at a 2 year President,either way.

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