The Baneful Effects of a Third Party in Presidential Elections

Earlier this month, I spoke at the Winter Haven, Florida, 9-12 Project. Last night I was closer to home at the Lakeland 9-12 Project meeting. As with the Winter Haven group, these are sincere citizens who want to see substantive change, as opposed to a vague, dreamy “hope-and-change” mantra without meaning. They are committed to restoring the original intent of the Constitution and in helping educate the public on basic principles.

My topic was the effect of third parties on elections. Here are a few of my prime examples.

In 1844, the Liberty Party entered the presidential election as an alternative to the Democrats and Whigs. This party had one issue only—the abolition of slavery. James G. Birney, a man of principle and courage was its presidential candidate. He had put his life on the line many times for his beliefs. I admire him. But since this was a one-issue party, defeat was inevitable; you have to develop a broad agenda and distinct philosophy of government to attract more people to your side. However, this small party probably turned the election in a direction it wouldn’t have gone otherwise. The Democrats were the pro-slavery party, while the Whigs, though divided on the issue, at least had some reformers who wanted to take steps to eliminate slavery. If any progress were to be made for abolition of slavery, it would have been far better had the Whigs won. However, the Liberty Party, although it took only 2% of the popular vote, drained enough support from the Whigs that the Democrats carried New York, the state with the largest number of electoral votes. If the Whigs had won that state, their candidate, Henry Clay, would have been president. Instead, we got James Polk, who supported the slave system.

Then, in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt challenged sitting president William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination. Roosevelt was denied the nomination, and was so angered by it that he started his own third party known as the Progressives [with a nickname of Bull Moose]. Roosevelt effectively split the Republican vote in that election, putting Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the White House. Wilson, who was even more progressive than Roosevelt, championed the idea that the Constitution was a “living document,” and that original intent should be shelved. If Taft hadn’t been opposed by Roosevelt, he probably would have won reelection and Wilson never would have become president—he garnered only 42% of the popular vote.

Finally, in 1992, the entrance of Ross Perot into the race took away 19% of the vote that traditionally would have gone to the Republicans. The result? The presidency of Bill Clinton.

More often than not, third parties allow someone to win who normally wouldn’t. And the one who wins quite often is worse than the one from whom votes were drained. In an attempt to achieve the perfect, third parties usually end up providing us with a raw deal. As the cliché goes, the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

If I have one electoral fear right now, it’s that someone, whether it be Donald Trump or Ron Paul, will decide to run as a third-party candidate in 2012, thereby ensuring an Obama reelection. I hope history can come along and be a guide—don’t destroy our best chance of reversing what has occurred on Obama’s watch. Don’t allow disunity to give this man a second term. I’m not sure the country can survive another four years.

Who Has the Vision?

Mike Huckabee is out. I’m sad over that, but trust his judgment. Donald Trump is out. I’m thrilled over that, yet not assured that he will stay out, but will try his hand at an independent run, thereby throwing the race to Obama.

This week, Newt Gingrich pretty much frittered away any chance he had, however small. I wasn’t his supporter anyway, but I at least acknowledge his ability to communicate and his flair for coming up with ideas. His marital failings, and the manner in which they were carried out, reveal a deeper problem. I believe God can turn someone around via true repentance, but I wasn’t convinced his repentance was very genuine. Yet now, with his attack on Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan for getting us out of our debt problem, Gingrich has alienated most of the rest of Republicans who weren’t as focused on moral issues.

I never believed Gingrich had much of a chance to get the nomination in the first place, but he is now electoral toast with Republican primary voters. His political fate is sealed, and his run is over almost as soon as it began.

That leads some commentators to think that Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, which I find highly disturbing. This is the man who won’t disavow his own healthcare plan that is bankrupting Massachusetts. Somehow, he wants us to believe that what he did with that plan, which is the forerunner for Obamacare, is somehow different than the Obama approach.

Sorry, I’m not convinced. If this is the best the Republicans can do, they will deserve to lose again in 2012. However, I’m still hopeful that primary voters will not succumb to this type of doubletalk and will instead gravitate toward someone who will effectively challenge the Obama agenda and present a positive vision for the future.

Who will that be?

The Albatross & the Trump Card

Two businessmen are making noise as presidential contenders: Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. Both have serious flaws. I know my opinion of them will not sit well with everyone, but I always strive to be as open as possible about my views, realizing that I could be wrong, but believing that it is important to air legitimate concerns.

For Mitt Romney, this is a second time around; he fell short in 2008, but now feels the time is right for a comeback. I freely admit that his Mormonism is a stumbling block for me. From my perspective, Mormonism is a cult, and not a variant of the Christian faith. Yes, I know Mormons are moral, and I wish to work with them on policy issues where we have agreement, but it would be troublesome to me to have someone with Mormon theology as the chief executive in the land. Would that be worse than someone whose religion is false in other ways, such as radical liberation theology? Neither is desirable.

But beyond his religious beliefs, I have deep concerns about his policies. Is he really pro-life, or is this late conversion to that stance just a political ploy? That is a real issue, given his past pro-choice position. He also now claims to be opposed to Obamacare, but isn’t that simply a newer version of what he championed in Massachusetts when he was governor? Romney may be trying to run away from his past, but it’s going to weigh him down.

On to Trump, who is a surprise entry into the race. He’s certainly a celebrity, and he’s definitely made a mark in the business world. Anyone who is a billionaire has left his imprint.

But just who is Donald Trump? What does he believe? A few years ago, he was trumpeting [pardon the slight pun] his own plan for universal healthcare that mirrors both Romney’s and Obama’s. Are we to believe he is now totally opposed to what he formerly proposed?

He also recently taped an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network in which he espoused pro-life views that he never held previously, and in which he declared that he is a Christian—which will probably come as a shock to most who know him. Amazing, isn’t it, how born again someone can become when running for president in a party that includes the majority of politically active evangelicals. Please forgive me if I sound less than convinced that his conversion is genuine. Much as I hope it is the real thing, it will take more than one interview during a run for the top spot in the land to thrill my heart.

Political use of religion? Has anyone ever done that before? The better question is—when has this not been done? I worry about his character, and that he may stop at nothing to achieve his goal.

There’s already speculation—fueled by his own comments—that if he fails to win the Republican nomination, he will run as a third-party candidate. Putting his own ego first, he would doom the eventual Republican nominee to defeat by this scheme. He would be the ultimate spoiler, practically ensuring that Obama survives to take the nation down a disastrous path for another four years. Trump’s role would be similar to Perot’s in 1992, which gave us eight years of Bill Clinton.

Yes, he is a “trump card,” and he’s also just a celebrity out for his own advancement. He’s not a serious candidate, and it is astounding that some polls already show him ahead of the Republican pack. That’s not merely astounding—it’s nearly depressing.

If Republicans really want to lose in 2012, they can’t do better than nominating either Romney or Trump. But I’m still counting on the rank and file of the party to show more common sense.