The New York Times reported over the weekend on the desperate lengths to which some anti-Trump Republicans are prepared to go. If they are unable to stop Trump’s nomination, some Republicans are thinking about launching an independent presidential bid for the general election:
The names of a few well-known conservatives have been offered up in recent days as potential third-party standard-bearers, and William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, has circulated a memo to a small number of conservative allies detailing the process by which an independent candidate could get on general-election ballots across the country.
Among the recruits under discussion are Tom Coburn, a former Oklahoma senator who has told associates that he would be open to running, and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who was suggested as a possible third-party candidate at a meeting of conservative activists on Thursday in Washington.
I can understand why some anti-Trump Republican voters would be willing to support an alternative Republican candidate running as an independent, but it’s not clear why any former or current politician would want to be the figurehead of such a quixotic effort. The candidate drafted to run this campaign would have a thankless task, and his sole purpose in the race would be to act as a spoiler. An anti-Trump independent candidate might not even have enough support to take part in the debates, and he would be dogged from the beginning by the obvious liability that his presence in the race is intended to throw the election to the other major party. It’s not a surprise that no one is rushing forward to volunteer as tribute. Insofar as anti-Trump Republicans are committed to running on the same unimaginative, unappealing agenda that voters rejected in the last two presidential elections, their candidate isn’t going to have much to offer except the opportunity to cast protest votes against Trump. Since the Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates can already fill this role, the entire exercise seems redundant at best.
A realistic “successful” scenario for such a campaign is that it would at least receive a respectable share of the popular vote and maybe win a couple small states. That would ensure a split GOP vote and a resounding Clinton victory in the fall. The worst-cast scenario is that it would still split an already weakened Republican coalition and deliver the White House and the Senate to the Democrats, but it would also show the limited appeal of the official GOP line among its own voters. Some anti-Trump Republicans want to make a show of strength by running against their own party’s nominee in the fall, and they will probably discover that they don’t have nearly as much support as they think they do. If one wanted to come up with a way to guarantee that the Democratic nominee wins the general election by a gaudy, embarrassing margin, it would be difficult to do better than what Kristol and the others are proposing here.