The 2014 mid-terms landslide with its Boehner re-election aftermath, had a similar expression of Tea Party/conservative disgust as did the 2012 landslide. Now, as then, voices have been raised calling for a conservative third party.
Leaving aside persons and personalities, if the question of the viability of a third party is to be considered outside of the emotion of the moment, disgust with this or that possible Establishment candidate, then the Electoral College and constitutional issues need to be examined.
Even with massive enthusiasm and huge grass roots funding behind such a movement, history shows that victory first time up would be unlikely (although a major economic dislocation could prove an exceptional catalyst). Teddy Roosevelt crushed the Republican establishment in 1912, but lost heavily to the Dem’s, La Follette had substantial enthusiasm at 19.24% of the popular vote but did poorly in the Electoral College, as did Perot 18.9% and George Wallace13.5%.
In 1856, the new Republican Party lost in their first outing, whilst performing credibly and, after the next election, became the major force in presidential politics for the next 56 years. Thus the Whigs, who displaced the Federalists, and the Republicans who replaced the Whigs, prove that a new party can, if there is a major social shift, not only do well but can become a dominant force.
Below are illustrations of how a new party could eclipse the GOP as it now stands and win in 2016, although 2020 in a straight two party race would seem more likely. The major question would be whether, if the new party did well but did not win, it could stay around for another run-unlike Roosevelt’s Progressive Party.Thus those who might consider a new party would have to also consider the massive commitment it would require.
The question is, would a third party run give it a realistic chance of winning the presidency in 2016?
The answer is, yes if the environment is right. If by November 2016 the economy is not better than now, or has turned down massively, and if Romney or Jeb Bush were the GOP’s candidate which caused conservatives to bolt, then a three way vote split is quite possible.
This approximates the three party (Dem/Bull Moose/GOP) 1912 election. That election was prevented from being thrown into the House because sitting President Taft only carried two states, but split the vote with Roosevelt 23% to 27% denying Roosevelt enough electoral votes to stop Wilson having an outright win.
Whereas the scenario below, realistically for the situation over 100 years later, shows the GOP candidate winning enough electoral votes to ensure no candidate had a majority.
It would require a genuine conservative, like Palin, who is the only person with enough name recognition, support base and fundraising ability to have any chance, to head a mass movement third party run. Concomitantly, if there was a major economic downturn, and a split in the left was exacerbated to the point that the “Progressives” stayed home on election day, and the Tea Party turned out en-mass, then the map below (with the prospective third party states in beige) is a very plausible result.
In this scenario the Democratic candidate would not have the 270 electoral college votes needed for outright victory. Under the constitution, the GOP standard bearer, the Dem, and the third party candidate would be the candidates the House would decide from. (presuming no other candidate had any electoral college votes. If they did they would be eliminated from the balloting as only the top three go through for consideration)
Every state would have one vote based on the result of each states party representation. Thus, for example New York’s one vote would go to the Dem, and Wyoming’s one vote would go to the new Conservative Party, or to the Republican. Given the Republican, in this scenario, would have no chance of winning, it would be presumed that the votes of the states that Republican had won would go to the Conservative. This, if after the first ballot, no candidate had a majority of states votes, and if the conservative was the second choice of general election voters as per the map below.
Given it would be unlikely that the GOP would lose control of the House and the state caucus delegations, thus, on the most recent analysis, the GOP would have a majority of the 50 states votes based on caucus outcomes when balloting.
This scenario played out before. In the election of 1824 Andrew Jackson finished first with more electoral votes than John Quincy Adams, William Crawford came third and Henry Clay fourth. With Clay eliminated he threw the support of his states to Adams, who was duly elected, based on the fact of his having the majority of states.
Interestingly the combined Adams/Clay popular vote was 43.9% to Jackson’s 41.3% so in effect electoral justice was done. Similarly in the map below the combined non-Dem electoral vote is 274-four above the minimum of 270, and thus electoral justice would also have been done 187 years later
The full constitutional scenario is set out below the map.”Undecided” means third party and the map represents a 2016 scenario disregarding Obama as the Democratic candidate. In the ensuing map from 1912 it clearly shows how a sitting president can only carry two states as did Taft so the scenario is entirely plausible.
Wilson received 41.7% of the vote and 435 Electoral College votes/Roosevelt 27.4 and 88/Taft 23.2% and 8. Thus Roosevelt/Taft had a popular vote majority (The Socialist Debs received 6%)
The constitution is very clear on the matter. Article 12 states, inter- alia:
“The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.”
Thus, if the no candidate with an electoral college majority scenario plays out, and presuming there are no other candidates who have won electoral votes, the House would meet to choose the next president by January 20th 2017, with the states having one vote each, whilst the Senate would meet to choose the Vice-President.
Based on the current composition of the House, and if voting went strictly on party lines, with no vote switching or abstentions in states with a close proportion of Republicans and Democrats, the Independent (or third party) candidate would be chosen on the first or second ballot.
The Electoral College map is of course set out for illustrative purposes only. Given a political, social and economic environment in such a state of flux that a major third party effort had arisen there is no way of knowing, at this point in time, how any particular state might go on election day. The point is however, that there is a scenario where none of the three candidates had an Electoral College majority and thus a new, third party candidate could win-if not in 2016 then in 2020 — once the movement had bedded down and the GOP had gone the way of the Whigs.
Clearly, all the possible ducks would have to be in a row, a major personality such as Governor Palin would have to lead the new party and, as always money would be the determinate of how far along such a movement could go. Even a Perot or a Bloomberg or a Trump with all their personal wealth in such an undertaking, could only get so far and the fundraising, without corporate or Establishment support would have to be unprecedented from the grass roots. However if the economic and political winds had shifted enough and corporate America saw the GOP had no chance, and perhaps some of the newly wealthy entrepreneur class were interested the finance might become available at that point.
The only guarantee that can be confidently stated is that if a major third party did get underway the windmill it tilted at, without the finance required, would be the GOP’s whose 2016 candidate would be doomed.Whether that is a bad result would be a matter for ones personal predilections, if it brought an internal Reaganite revolution for 2020 perhaps the third party concept might not prove to be quite so quixotic in the end.