Stop Trump? Here’s why a third-party effort will probably fizzle

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, unsuccessfully sought to recruit a third-party candidate to run against Donald Trump in the fall.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, unsuccessfully sought to recruit a third-party candidate to run against Donald Trump in the fall.

(Associated Press)

Faced with the prospect of Donald Trump as their presidential nominee, dispirited Republicans have been working their way through the various stages of grief.

But for those who can’t quite make it from denial and anger to acceptance, there is an alternative: Third party!

After failing to beat the Manhattan mogul during the primary season, a group of resistant Republicans — including, for a time, Mitt Romney — have been working hard to coax an independent candidate into the race against Trump and the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

There are a number of hurdles, however, and history suggests such an effort, if it even comes to fruition, will fall well short of the White House.


What’s driving the third-party movement?

Quite simply, there are a number of Republicans who can’t abide the notion of voting for Trump, because they don’t believe his views are true to the party’s core values or because they find certain of his statements — maligning women, disparaging minorities — off-putting and unacceptable. And the prospect of voting for Clinton is no more appetizing.

Are there political considerations?

Well, duh. Some Republicans worry that Trump’s candidacy and his many inflammatory comments could hurt the party in the long term, especially among Latinos and young people, the latter of whom will be voting in elections for years to come. Call this the Hoover-Carter effect, after two unpopular presidents whose reputations dogged their respective parties for decades.

More immediately, there is also concern about Trump’s effect on November’s down-ballot races and, especially, the GOP’s efforts to retain control of the Senate.

Has a third-party candidate ever won the White House?

No. The most successful was Theodore Roosevelt. The former president won 27% of the vote and 88 electoral votes in his 1912 political comeback attempt. His showing was good enough for second place, ahead of the sitting president and Republican nominee, William Howard Taft, and helped tip the White House to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

If a third-party candidate is unlikely to win the presidency, what’s the point?

There are different motivations.

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Such as?

For some, it’s about those down-ballot races. The thinking is that Republicans who refuse to vote for Trump and plan to skip the November election might be willing to cast a ballot for a third-party alternative and, while they’re at it, vote for Republicans running for the House, Senate and other partisan offices.

What else?

Others hope a third-party candidate could win enough states to deny both Clinton and Trump an Electoral College majority. That would leave the contest to be decided in the House of Representatives. Barring a November cataclysm, the GOP will continue to control the House. So they just might choose a Republican who hasn’t speckled the island of Manhattan with his name in big, gold letters.

Who’s behind the third-party effort?

Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee and a vocal Trump critic, was involved until he gave up this week. Mike Murphy and Stuart Stevens, two high-profile Republican strategists with past ties to Romney, have been among those publicly shopping for Trump alternatives. So have Bill Kristol, the conservative activist and editor of the Weekly Standard magazine, and Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and talk-radio personality.

Enough names have been floated to build a land bridge to Japan. No takers so far.

Who can they get to run?

That’s been a problem. Enough names have been floated to build a land bridge between the U.S. and Japan. But there haven’t been any takers so far.

Who’s said no?

The long list includes Romney, Ohio Gov. John Kasich — who was among those Trump defeated his way to securing the GOP nomination — former Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who stirred interest with a Facebook plea for “some third candidate — a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.”

Why the cold feet?

From a practical standpoint, it’s getting awfully late to jump into the presidential race. The filing deadline to make the November ballot has already passed in Texas, the most Republican of the big states, and other deadlines are fast approaching. Ballot access has long been one of the biggest impediments to a viable third-party bid. The Democratic and Republican parties are quite content with their duopoly and haven’t made it easier for others to compete.

Any other reason?

Probably because most of the prospects realize they would almost certainly lose and, worse, be blamed for splitting the Republican vote and ensuring Clinton’s election as president. That would be a heavy burden to carry for anyone looking ahead to a possible run in 2020.

Golly. You mean prospective candidates already are eyeing the White House in 2020?

Stop it.

So no one with even the slightest political stature is willing to take on Trump and Clinton?

Gary Johnson, New Mexico’s former governor, is running again as the Libertarian Party candidate and has chosen Massachusetts’ former Republican governor, Bill Weld, to be his running mate. The last time Johnson ran, in 2012, he received 1% of the national vote. He could double that, or more.

Didn’t Weld once write a political suspense novel called “Mackerel by Moonlight”?

Yes, he did. It was actually quite enjoyable.

What if all those political schemers are wrong and Trump is elected president?

Romney will do just fine. The rest could pool their resources, buy the movie rights to “Mackerel by Moonlight” and become Hollywood moguls.


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