The Odds Of An Independent Conservative Third-Party Candidacy Seem To Be Growing

Have you seen the statement Jeb Bush put out earlier today? Whatever you think of Jeb, you’ve got to agree this is interesting

I congratulate Donald Trump on securing his place as the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. There is no doubt that he successfully tapped into the deep sense of anger and frustration so many Americans around the country rightfully feel today.

The tremendous anger of the current U.S. electorate – whether Republican, Democrat or independent – is a result of people fearful about the future, concerned with the direction of our country and tremendously frustrated by the abject failure and inability of leaders in Washington, D.C. to make anything better.

American voters have made it clear that Washington is broken, but I’m not optimistic that either of the leading candidates for President will put us on a better course.

The American Presidency is an office that goes beyond just politics. It requires of its occupant great fortitude and humility and the temperament and strong character to deal with the unexpected challenges that will inevitably impact our nation in the next four years.

Donald Trump has not demonstrated that temperament or strength of character. He has not displayed a respect for the Constitution. And, he is not a consistent conservative. These are all reasons why I cannot support his candidacy.

Hillary Clinton has proven to be an untrustworthy liberal politician who, if elected, would present a third term of the disastrous foreign and economic policy agenda of Barack Obama.

In November, I will not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but I will support principled conservatives at the state and federal levels, just as I have done my entire life. For Republicans, there is no greater priority than ensuring we keep control of both chambers of Congress. I look forward to working hard for great conservatives in the Senate and House in the coming months.

You could interpret that as a statement of abstention. But given the fact this man actually ran for the office it’s a little much to believe he’d have nothing to say about the presidential race. It looks fishy.

Particularly given the continuing buzz about efforts being made to put a third-party conservative run together. To get you up to speed on those, here’s a piece from The Hill yesterday

Ryan’s refusal to endorse Trump, at least for the time being, could provide tacit encouragement to the Republicans who are seeking to field another candidate.

Conservative activists led by Erick Erickson, a writer and radio host, and other well-connected strategists plan to hold at least two organizing conference calls before the weekend to figure out their strategy.

“A number of movement conservatives fiscal and social are actively now looking at third-party and independent options,” Erickson said Thursday. “We all find Trump unacceptable. We don’t think he can beat Hillary Clinton regardless of whether there’s a third party or not, so why not put an alternative out there.”

A little more from The Hill’s conversation with Erickson…

“It’s an uphill climb, everybody recognizes that, regardless of the route we go, but there are a lot of Republican donors sitting on the sidelines who would rather fund a third party than fund Donald Trump,” said Erickson, who said campaign finance experts within the movement estimate it will cost a minimum of $250 million to fund a third-party bid.

And a Reuters piece on the efforts of Conservatives Against Trump, the group Erickson is involved with…

One outcome, although rare, may be that no candidate crosses the necessary threshold of 270 votes in the U.S. Electoral College. In that case, the vote for the next president would pass to the U.S. House of Representatives, currently controlled by Republicans.

Deborah DeMoss Fonseca, who recruited donors for former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and is working with Conservatives Against Trump, said her group was trying to find a candidate who would be high-profile enough to compete with Trump and Clinton.

NO EASY TASK

But finding a candidate of that caliber who would be willing to run is no easy feat. Searby’s group has reached out to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and James Mattis, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, among others, but both declined after discussions.

Republican U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has emerged as a favorite of the Republicans seeking a third-party candidate. Kristol has had warm words for him.

Sasse, a freshman lawmaker and former Bush administration official, is a strong critic of Trump and has called for an alternative candidate to him. But he says that person should be someone other than him.

Kristol meaning Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, who has been working for weeks on coming up with a third-party conservative run and put out a manifesto on the subject for the current issue of that publication.

As an aside, there are some interesting discussions going on about a third-party run; here’s an Andrew McCarthy piece which is outstanding, and here’s a Thomas Sowell column on the subject no one should miss.

Gaming all this out, there are two main facets to it. First is the identity of the candidate, which is a sticky problem – there aren’t a lot of great options out there due in no small part to the huge Republican field this cycle. You have to find somebody who didn’t already run for president, and since virtually everybody did you might have some trouble.

The best possibility of the bunch would have been Tom Coburn, the maverick conservative former senator from Oklahoma who could have some crossover appeal due to his somewhat non-partisan focus on rooting out waste in the federal government in the last several years of his time in Washington. Coburn would also be a good geographical choice (more on that in a minute). But the problem is Coburn is still engaged in a fight against cancer, and he hasn’t beaten it yet. His health would make him an iffy bet for a presidential run.

Sasse could be a fit even if he’s a reluctant candidate. Mattis might ultimately change his mind and say yes, or another military hero, like Ray Odierno or Stanley McChrystal, could come to the fore. Perhaps more as a vice presidential candidate than at the top of the ticket Jim Webb could be an asset if the choice was to show this was more than just a GOP-in-exile effort.

Even someone like J.C. Watts could be an interesting thought. If in fact this independent conservative candidacy would be the birth of a new political party and not just a one-off bid, having Watts on the ticket either at the top or the bottom could make for a promising wrinkle. Think about it: how many decades have the Democrats invested in defining Republicans as a bunch of racists within the black community? Isn’t that the number one project the Democrat Party and its various mouthpieces have engaged in? If you’re going to start over with a new political party and you have the opportunity to lay that baggage aside wouldn’t one of the best ways to do so be to have a brilliant, competent, articulate black leader with universal appeal like Watts as a top-level player on the electoral level?

But recruiting a candidate might be the toughest part. Believe it or not, the rest of the equation could be more doable than you think.

The key piece, of course, is getting on the ballot. A cursory examination of an independent conservative (let’s call it IC) run says that Texas is a major roadblock; Texas carries 38 electoral votes and it’s a conservative state. And to get on the ballot in Texas would require 79,000 names on a signature by close of business Monday.

That isn’t going to happen without knowing who the candidate is, obviously. But there are two things going on with Texas that make that high wall not the obstacle you might think.

First, and we’re not familiar with the case law so we’re taking this on faith from having heard it from people on the periphery of the Conservatives Against Trump conversations, there is a belief that Texas’ ballot-access laws can be beaten in court. After all, May 9 is two months before either party’s convention takes place; it would seem unconscionably early to impose a deadline on a potential presidential candidate. Other states with early ballot deadlines could also be similarly challenged.

Second, if the IC isn’t on the ballot in Texas it’s probably not that devastating a problem.

Why? Because the path to victory for an IC isn’t about winning the popular vote; it’s about getting the election into the House. Campaigning hard in Texas might actually hurt that.

Texas is a red state, but it isn’t so red that an IC splitting the “Republican” vote with Trump wouldn’t produce a plurality and thus those 38 electoral votes for Clinton. If she was able to get 45 percent of the vote in a three-way race in Texas it probably makes her the winner there, and giving her 38 electoral votes she’s not currently expecting could ruin this whole plan.

But there are other states, particularly ones like Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Montana, the Dakotas, Idaho and others in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, where an IC could finish first and capture a not-insubstantial number of electoral votes.

Understand the premise of this entire exercise is that Trump is nobody’s conservative, and furthermore he is actively working to drum conservatives out of the Republican Party while preparing to run as a more entertaining version of Hillary Clinton from an ideological standpoint. That’s why he’s against talking about universal health care, it’s why he’s willing to listen, or something, on a $15 minimum wage, it’s why he hired a Hollywood/Soros/Goldman Sachs Democrat to raise money for him and it’s why he abandoned his tax plan which would have cut the top tax rates. Trump runs to the left and abandons conservatives to their fate – with the theory (wrongheaded and arrogant, we think) that conservatives will have no choice but to follow along behind the bus that just ran them over, as his supporters seem so insistent on demanding.

Yes, but doesn’t that pave the way for Clinton to win? Probably. But there’s an app for that.

Which could be the Libertarian Party. Gary Johnson has been bandied about as an option for conservatives to embrace as a protest against Trump, but the fact is even though he came up as a Republican Johnson isn’t really a great fit for that role. He’s the CEO of a company dealing in marijuana, for one thing, and he’s relatively open about his pro-choice stance on abortion, for another. Johnson is also on the wrong side of the religious freedom vs. gay marriage fight, for a third. Fourth, he’s an unquestioned open-borders/amnesty supporter. He’s a successful businessman and a former governor of New Mexico who actually had a good record as a fiscal conservative, but he was a terrible fit in the GOP when he ran in 2012 and in demeanor he’d probably be more interesting to disaffected Bernie Sanders voters – and perhaps specifically millennials, who lean left but appear to absolutely hate Hillary Clinton (they don’t like Trump any better).

What Johnson principally lacks, but could be on the verge of enjoying great fortune with regard to, is money. The LP is already seeing a great deal of interest this week in the wake of Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP, though most of that has come via disaffected Ted Cruz supporters. If it plays its cards right it could very well see a second surge when Clinton finally dispatches Sanders on the Democrat side, but if there is an IC candidate it might do the Libertarians more good to siphon votes from the Democrats, and perhaps specifically on college campuses, than to work the Never Trump aisle. It’s entirely possible there could be donor investment in the LP were it to pursue that strategy as a means of seeking the five percent threshold required for major-party status in the future.

Let’s say a juiced-up Libertarian Party started working the Sanders aisle and peeling elements of the far-left vote from Clinton in blue states, on the theory that she’s corrupt and a tool of Wall Street and big corporations, and that she’s part of a failed establishment. One might envision elements of that message being that millions of minority Americans needlessly went to prison thanks to her husband’s mandatory sentencing guidelines and his reckless and racist War on Drugs, that she insufficiently believes in the freedom of gays and others to live their lives – Hillary was a longtime opponent of gay marriage, for example, that she’s a war-monger who talked us into Libya and a few other things. For example, Johnson is a proponent of the Fair Tax, one of the components of which may involve “prebates” – a cash allowance to those with low incomes – that could be sold as an attempt at a Universal Basic Income; while that’s a reform conservative idea Libertarians have kicked around, it’s also something Sanders has made favorable noises about. Could the LP pull enough votes away from Clinton to enable Trump to win in, say, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Nevada, Vermont and a few other purple and blue states where Sanders drummed her badly?

Maybe.

And if Trump steals a number of those along with his expected winnings in the South, while the IC steals the aforementioned states in the middle and western parts of the country away from Trump, you could well have an “1824” election, in which nobody can get a majority of the electoral votes.

If that happens, the election goes to the House.

And what did the Speaker of the House just refuse to do?

Paul Ryan is holding his cards close to the vest, and he’s being brutalized for it by Trump and his social media fans. But what Ryan is doing is attempting to protect his people; House members in districts Trump will surely carry are more than free to endorse him if they want, but there are a number of Republican members in seats which could become awfully hot if Trump is the nominee. If Ryan were to endorse Trump now he would be hanging Trump around the necks of a lot of those members, and that could cost the GOP if Trump stays in a double-digit deficit to Clinton.

Indeed, if Trump is going to run as a more entertaining version of Hillary a lot of those members in deep-red districts could find themselves without a home in the presidential race. But if there’s an IC, now they have someone they can attach to. And if the presidential race gets to the House, they have a presidential candidate to vote for.

Assuming the GOP holds the House, you can bet Ryan will make sure his caucus picks someone to back for president before the vote, so as to forestall any chance Clinton would be elected by that body. If the IC has the majority of the GOP caucus, there is your victory.

We also haven’t discussed money, which is the final piece to this. The Hill story above said the estimate is $250 million to get an IC bid into the realm of reality. The good news is there is $250 million out there.

Remember, the Freedom Alliance, which is the network of donors the Koch brothers have assembled, have said they’ll have a budget for this cycle as high as $900 million. And the Kochs are categorically not going to help Trump; they’ve even made noises about backing Hillary. Obviously they would have a look at an IC candidate; if one could be found that they’d support you could have an open spigot for as much funding as would be necessary. Depending on who the candidate is and how far along he or she could get, you could see the donor networks supporting Bush, Rubio or Cruz getting behind the IC – it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Cruz’ campaign organization could be amalgamated into the effort. And there are several prominent conservative donors who as of now are unlikely to help Trump. From a Hill piece earlier this week on Trump’s efforts to build a fundraising operation he said he wouldn’t need and hasn’t laid the groundwork for…

Trump will likely never see a penny from the GOP heavyweights such as New York hedge fund manager Paul Singer; the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs; and Randy Kendrick, the wife of the Arizona Diamondbacks owner.

The network of some 700 conservative donors led by billionaires Charles and David Koch has a $900 million budget for 2016, but network leaders including Charles Koch have signaled distress over Trump’s tone and are not expected to provide any support for his campaign.

Chart Westcott, a Texas businessman who gave $200,000 to Scott Walker’s presidential super-PAC and then supported Ted Cruz after Walker dropped out, told The Hill that he can’t imagine backing Trump, describing his ideas as authoritarian, unworkable and ruinous for the economy.

When pushed, however, to imagining President Clinton controlling the Supreme Court, Westcott said, “I have an open mind. It would be possible for Donald Trump to earn my support.”

Westcott paused and sighed deeply.

“But man,” he said. “He would have to do a lot of proving to me. That he’s not going to shut down a sector of the economy or someone’s company because they disagree with him.

“That kind of authoritarianism is just bad. It’s no way to run a country.”

Understand that Trump will likely be the most short-stacked major-party presidential nominee in modern American history. The donors don’t like him, largely because he’s spent the primary season insulting him and a lot of them are actual conservatives who don’t believe he is one. His hiring of Steven Mnuchin is a signal that Trump plans on going around to all the same people who are donating money to Hillary and asking them to hedge their bets with him with the doubtless implicit promise that whatever favorable treatment they expect from her will be on offer with him – but heaven help them if they tell him no, and Westcott’s quote above would be the telling example. Call it the “hard sell,” but lots of Republican donors won’t be having any of that.

So those are the elements. Is it more than a pipe dream at this point? Yeah, probably. Does it have a candidate yet? No, and until it does conservatives find themselves politically homeless for the 2016 presidential cycle.

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