Let’s face it: NOBODY has a clue how the presidential primaries will shake out. Despite recent surges (and primary wins) by Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the presumptive “favorites” according to the basic delegate math. But there’s also the fact that this year is like no other presidential election year in recent memory and, if the trend continues, anything could happen.
More and more recently I have been considering the possibility that 2016 may be the year that the post-primary race has four rather than only two legitimate candidates running. (I realize that the term “legitimate” in connection with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is a stretch but I’m talking candidates that would have more than fringe support.) It’s been my long-held belief that third party runs in the U.S. political system are doomed to fail and that they, in turn, doom the candidate most closely aligned with their politics. Ross Perot and Ralph Nader come to mind, for example.
What it would take for a REAL Euro-style multi-party, multi-candidate race is for their to be a third party and a fourth party on the ballot, two additional candidates on either end of the political spectrum. And there’s reason to think that 2016 might just be that year.
How? Let’s play out a scenario that I think isn’t all that farfetched.
First, let’s look at the Republican clown show. The national Republicans are beside themselves at the moment. Trump has basically stolen their Party from them and the closest thing to a mainstream Republican candidate is a man who just a year or two ago was Republican Enemy Number One with his obstruction and frankly outrageous positions and beliefs. They are working overtime to figure out a way to dump Trump in a brokered convention that could even see John Kasich or a unicorn like Paul Ryan ending up with the nomination. Trump and Cruz and the RNC itself are all setting the stage for an historical Republican convention and nobody has a clue what could happen.
Given all of this, let’s imagine that the Republicans do somehow manage to scheme and connive and broker and they keep Trump from securing the nomination. If you think Trump will hang up his hat and go back to swindling hapless business college graduate wannabes, you don’t know the man very well. He’ll take one look at the coalition of racists, bigots, and misogynists that he’s assembled and think, “I don’t need no stinkin’ GOP.” He’d form the Great America Party and keep right on running. It’s not like he needs the RNC’s money or any help with publicity.
A not-so-likely scenario is that he DOES secure the Republican nomination and the “mainstream” Republicans are forced to abandon their Party to him, takes as many of their balls as they can carry, and launch their own third party bid. This is my personal favorite scenario but, as I said, it’s not-so-likely.
Now, let’s look at the Democratic side and assume that Hillary Clinton DOES lock up the Democratic Party nomination. I realize that Sanders has a great deal of momentum right now but the plain fact is that the clock and the math just make him winning the nomination all but impossible. If the remaining state caucuses and primaries were “winner take all”, he’d have a real shot. But they aren’t. The delegates are proportionally allocated so, even if Clinton doesn’t win, she adds more delegates to her total. And let’s not forget the fact that she has gotten more votes in the primaries and caucuses that have already happened. So, it’s not like she’s somehow gamed the system with superdelegates and deals with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz while the two of them chomp on cigars in a smoke-filled backroom.
Given Sanders’ reticence to work with other Democrats in terms of fundraising or campaigning and the fact that he isn’t even really a Democrat, it is actually conceivable that, seeing Trump (or a mainstream GOP candidate in the not-so-likely alternative Republican scenario) peel off, he might see an opportunity to peel off himself without having to mark his place in history as the one person most responsible for a President Trump or a President Cruz. He then becomes the fourth party candidate needed to make a multi-party presidential general election race something other than a complete landslide for one side or the other. Hell, in this scenario, you might even see a fifth party candidate jump in. Maybe Michael Bloomberg or some other “moderate” alternative.
Okay, I’m done with my thought experiment. If by some crazy chance I’m right or even close, all bets are off as to who the next president will be. And what impact this will have on down ticket races is completely unknown.
I think the one thing we can all agree on is that it’s a weird year and anything could happen.