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“It Ain’t Gonna Happen”: No, There Won’t Be A Major Third-Party Candidacy In 2016 — From Bloomberg Or Anyone Else

Let’s face it: we in the media are suckers for any kind of political story that offers something unpredictable. And like clockwork, every four years someone suggests that there might be a viable third-party presidential candidacy in the offing, spurring legions of reporters and commentators to lick their lips in anticipation. At the moment the attention is focused on former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, but there is also discussion of whether conservatives might rally around a third-party candidate if Donald Trump, no true conservative he, becomes the GOP nominee.

I have some bad news: It ain’t gonna happen.

Not only is Bloomberg not going to run, but if Trump wins the Republican nomination, every last prominent Republican will line up behind him like good soldiers.

Let’s start with Bloomberg. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that he is thinking about running because he’s distressed at the thought of a race between the vulgarian Donald Trump and the socialistic Bernie Sanders. They made it sound like he’s really on his way to a bid:

Mr. Bloomberg, 73, has already taken concrete steps toward a possible campaign, and has indicated to friends and allies that he would be willing to spend at least $1 billion of his fortune on it, according to people briefed on his deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his plans. He has set a deadline for making a final decision in early March, the latest point at which advisers believe Mr. Bloomberg could enter the race and still qualify to appear as an independent candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

He has retained a consultant to help him explore getting his name on those ballots, and his aides have done a detailed study of past third-party bids. Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a poll in December to see how he might fare against Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, and he intends to conduct another round of polling after the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 to gauge whether there is indeed an opening for him, according to two people familiar with his intentions.

You might read that and say, Holy cow, he’s doing it! But the thing about having $36.5 billion is that you can explore lots of things without being serious about them. Bloomberg has political consultants who work for him, and he can open the paper one morning, decide he’s troubled by today’s news, then pick up the phone and say to one of those consultants, “Write me up a report on what it would take for me to run for president.” Then they go off and do a poll, conduct a little research on ballot access, and put together a “plan” in a couple of weeks. Maybe it costs $100,000 all told to satisfy the boss’s curiosity, but that’s nothing to Bloomberg.

And he’s done it before. Here’s an almost identical article in the New York Times from eight years ago, about how he was laying the groundwork for a third-party run. Practically the only thing that’s different is the date.

You might say, “Hey, nobody thought Trump was going to run, either!” Which is true. But Trump found an opening in one of the two parties, and Bloomberg hasn’t suggested running as a Democrat. While I’m sure Bloomberg thinks he’d be an excellent president, he’s also smart enough to know that unlike in New York, where he could swamp the field with money and circumvent the Democratic Party’s dominance in the city, running a national third-party campaign is a different matter altogether.

It’s no accident that there hasn’t been a successful third-party presidential candidacy in modern American history. The closest anyone came was Teddy Roosevelt’s run in 1912, when he got 27 percent of the vote. In 1992, Ross Perot managed 19 percent of the vote — and zero votes in the Electoral College.

Perot offers us a hint as to why the talk from some Republicans about a third-party run is just that, talk. It has come most notably from Bill Kristol, who has been toying with the idea in public for a couple of months now, on the theory that if Donald Trump is the nominee, true conservatives would simply have to find an ideologically true standard-bearer to promote. Given the horror many conservatives are expressing at the prospect of a Trump nomination, you might be tempted to think they’d sign on to any conservative who decided to run.

But don’t believe it for a second. Are those conservatives heartfelt in their anguish about Trump being the GOP nominee? Absolutely. It’s not just that he’d probably lose, it’s that he obviously has no commitment to their ideals; he’s just saying whatever his current audience wants to hear, and once that audience changes (as in a general election), he’ll say completely different things. And who knows how he’d actually govern.

And yet, if he is the nominee, Republicans will be faced with a choice. They could launch a third-party bid, but that would almost certainly guarantee that the Democratic nominee would win. Republicans long ago convinced themselves that Perot delivered the 1992 election to Bill Clinton (even though the evidence makes clear that Perot took votes equally from Bush and Clinton, who won easily and would have done so with or without Perot in the race), so they’d be extremely skittish about repeating that outcome.

Far more importantly, if they have to choose between supporting their party’s nominee and mounting an almost certainly doomed third-party run, their feelings about Donald Trump will be far less critical than their feelings about the Democratic nominee, who will probably be Hillary Clinton — for whom they’ve nurtured a passionate loathing for two and a half decades now. We live in an era of “negative partisanship,” in which people’s hatred for the other party has become more central to their political identity than their love for their own party. Faced with the imminent possibility of Clinton sitting in the Oval Office, virtually every Republican will race to get behind Trump. Those now writing articles about what a nightmare a Trump nomination would be will be writing articles touting his virtues.

They won’t be dissembling — rather, they’ll just be trying to make the best of a bad situation. Once the point of reference is not a more preferable Republican but Hillary Clinton, Trump will look to them like a hero in the making. So as fun as a three-way presidential race in the fall might be, we in the media won’t be so fortunate. But don’t worry — it’s still going to be an interesting election.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 25, 2016

January 26, 2016 - Posted by | 3rd Party Presidential Candidates, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , ,

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