It’s Friday November 4th, and by Tuesday, we will have a new president-elect. There’s no stopping this train, whether you want to be on it or not. (The train is not going to Canada. Nor is it going to Mexico, because of the wall. Also, the EU is out because of Brexit. Remember Brexit, when you’re voting. Remember that that happened. No one thought it would happen. But it happened. Because of VOTES.)
But by Tuesday, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be president. There is no third option. Or…is there?
You could vote for a third party candidate, like Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. But you should know there’s a slightly messy history of third party candidates in the United States. Before you issue a protest vote, look back at the times third party candidates have gotten close to the big O(val office.)
Theodore Roosevelt turned the country Democrat
Teddy Roze started out as a successful two-party system candidate, representing the Republican party. But later, he flip-flopped his way from Washington insider to anti-establishment outsider. With a record like that, Roosevelt would be prime for the electing in 2016.
His first time around, he didn’t even have to get elected, stepping into the presidency in 1901 after President William McKinley was assassinated. He was elected to a full term in 1904, and served through 1908. But after he left office, Roosevelt wasn’t happy with his hand-picked Republican successor, William Howard Taft. He decided to get back into the politics game, running for re-election — and losing the Republican primary to Taft. I, too, would be upset if I lost to a man whose only claim to fame in elementary schools nationwide is that he got stuck in a bathtub custom-made for him.
So Roosevelt did what any respectable politician would do. He created the Republican-adjacent Bull Moose Party, ran against Taft and Woodrow Wilson and handed both the White House and the Congress to the Democrats.
George Wallace, from Dixiecrats to the Southern Strategy
Back in the old days, progressive candidates like Teddy Roosevelt ran as Republicans and men like George Wallace ran as Democrats. Wallace was a real stand-up guy, who said, when being inaugurated as governor of Alabama, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Such a way with words! He also could have been a hit in 2016:
Wallace tried to get the Democratic nomination for president in 1964, 1972 and 1976. But in 1968, Wallace tried a different approach, running as the nominee for the American Independent Party. He hoped to win the South on a pro-segregation platform and nearly succeeded — he carried five southern states and is the most recent third-party candidate to win electoral votes.
His run led to Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which brought southerners over to the Republican party and shifted the political boundaries in this country forever.
Waiting for Perot
Ross Perot ran against Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Spoiler alert: he lost both times.
In 1992, Perot had two powerful campaign managers, Republican Ed Rollins and Democrat Hamilton Jordan. (#WildcatPride) At one point he was polling at 39 percent, but ended the race with nearly 20 percent of the vote. That’s one of the most successful third-party runs in history, with the side effect of sending Clinton into the White House over incumbent George Bush.
He did less well in 1996 when he ran against Clinton, the incumbent, and Republican Bob Dole. Perot ran as part of the Reform party, which he founded, but won only eight percent of the vote his second time around.
Ralph Nader prepared the Green for George Bush
In 2000, Ralph Nader ran as a candidate for the Green Party. As we all remember, that was a really boring election with a clear-cut winner and no way a third party candidate getting 2.7 percent of the vote could have changed anything. OH WAIT. Nader won 97,000 votes in Florida, the contentious state that won the election (via Supreme Court ruling) for George W. Bush.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a very interesting way of explaining the possible implications of the third-party vote. It was a survey with one question: “Do you like pizza?” and the three options were: “Yes,” “No,” and “ABSOLUTELY, PIZZA IS AMAZING!”
Turns out “No” was the winning answer, because “Yes” and “ABSOLUTELY, PIZZA IS AMAZING!” split all of the people who like pizza. Such a shame, because pizza is the best!
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