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The Deadline is Today

May 9, 2016

Various Republican figures are so dismayed at Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP that they are talking amongst themselves about fielding a third-party candidate. This is a principled thing to be admired. It is also deeply in Democrats’ interest.

Either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would win by a lot if the election were held today, but of course the election is six months off, and Trump is the wildest of wild cards. A conservative third party could only help the Democratic nominee.

But time is no ally of third partiers.

Although there are scores, if not hundreds, of minor parties in the United States, none of them is on the ballot in all 50 states. The Libertarian Party comes closest, at 33.  Libertarians embody the fiscal conservatism of the Republican Right but not the social conservatism – so that party isn’t the best fit for discontented Republicans.

The Constitution Party espouses both social and economic conservatism. But that party is also theocratic, believing that the United States should be governed according to both constitutional and Biblical principles. The party has veered so far right that it has become known as the “paleoconservative” party. Anyway, the Constitution Party has ballot access in only 13 states.

So it would seem that the existing alternatives to Trump aren’t going to be satisfactory to discontented Republican conservatives. That leaves conservatives to create a new party or run a candidate as an independent. The problem is that state deadlines for ballot access started expiring literally now, with today’s filing deadline in Texas. Imagine running a conservative presidential campaign without Texas in play. Texas the second biggest state in the Union, and it is by far the largest red state, with 38 electoral votes to 16 for Georgia, which comes next.

Speaking of Georgia, the deadline to file as an independent candidate in that state is July 12. Eleven state filing deadlines expire before the Republican National Convention convenes on July 18.

In most states, getting on the ballot requires literally thousands of petition signatures. With deadlines fast ticking by, third-party talk must become action almost immediately to have any effect at all. A credible national conservative running as an independent would almost certainly hand the election to the Democrats. Whether there will be such a candidate remains very much to be seen.

Even if the Republican Right can get it together to field an independent candidate, they’re up against some pretty tough precedent as well. It’s been a half-century, since George Wallace won five deep South states in 1968, since a third-party candidate won a single state. And it’s been since 1912 that a third-party candidate outpolled either major party candidate – Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party came in ahead of incumbent Republican President William Taft.

As a Democrat, I’m hoping they try. As a political observer, I’m skeptical they’ll succeed.

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