The recent primary season saw valiant battles from both the Republicans and Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump eventually rose victorious, but they don’t arrive without baggage. Surely, Democrats would prefer that their presumptive nominee didn’t trigger questions about trustworthiness with an email scandal. And Trump has his own allegedly fraudulent practices weighing him down along with divisive rhetoric that embarrasses the GOP. No one could have anticipated that an unapologetic reality star could come close to the presidency, but if this election cycle teaches us anything, it’s that unpredictability reigns supreme.
The upcoming conventions provide an opportunity to reflect upon the chaos. Even the tabloid scandals are crazier than usual. Bernie Sanders may have finally endorsed Clinton, but we won’t know the full effects for awhile. Trump hasn’t grown close to achieving party unity either. With both sides of the political spectrum looking hellaciously messy, Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson stands poised as a potential political force. And he could be the wildest card of this knock-down, drag out election season. Let’s dig into the possibilities, shall we?
The Conundrum Of A Third-Party Candidate
By their very nature, third-party candidates take away votes from the two major U.S. parties. And if we’re looking for precedent, there isn’t much success to be found. Teddy Roosevelt sought a third term in 1912 as a Bull Moose Party candidate. He didn’t win, but nabbed the greatest third-party percentage of the popular vote (29%) then and now. The most recent example would be Ross Perot, who shook things up for the Reform Party by capturing 19% of the popular vote in 1992. Perot’s presence resulted in Bill Clinton becoming president by a plurality vote. Clinton (43%) took out incumbent George W. Bush (37%), and pundits argued over which candidate was most affected by Perot. Some say the effect was negligible. But there’s a real concern with a presidential candidate winning without a majority vote.
Becoming a viable third-party candidate is a rough process. One must reach 15% threshold in five national surveys to participate in general election debates. And they must also earn spots on state ballots in order to advance towards the presidency. Johnson believes this is possible, and he may very well be correct. The former New Mexico Governor secured 1.2 million votes in the 2012 election. That was only 1% of the popular vote, but the 2016 election is shaping up to be a much different beast. Instead of battling tirelessly against an incumbent president and an establishment conservative, Johnson’s going up against two “historically unpopular” candidates.