Donald Trump will be the Republican Presidential nominee unless the sun over Cleveland rises from the West on July 18th. So what’s a newly defined “reasonable” Republican to do? People like the Bushes 41 and 43, Mitt Romney, Charlie Baker, former Mass. GOP Chair Jennifer Nassour, Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, and scores of other GOP officials and activists across the country, plan to sit out the convention or not vote in the general. Given Trump’s boasted unpredictability, which could put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk and wreak havoc with the global economic system, some may even, in the privacy of their voting booths, do the unthinkable and mark their ballots for Hillary.
Early post-Indiana conversations have focused on getting a highly visible Republican to run as an Independent or third party candidate. Rules to get on the ballot vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, it’s easy. You have to gather 10,000 verifiable signatures (which probably means collecting 20-30,000) and get them certified by August 2. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to do that nationally. In some of the states, deadlines for filing have already come and gone. In Florida, you need 120,000 certified signatures (so gather 240,000 – 300,000) and file by July 15th. California and Tennessee requirements are even more onerous.
Then there’s the whole matter of participating in the Presidential debates this fall. The Commission on Presidential Debates sets a threshold of 15 percent support in national polls to be included. And a candidate must also be on enough state ballots that it’s mathematically possible to win the Presidency. But to build that level of support takes a robust campaign organization and financial resources.
Some votes could go to the Libertarian Party candidate, already on the ballot in most states. The LP convention is May 26th, and its candidate could well be former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. He espouses a philosophy of fiscal conservatism and limited government, along with laissez-faire social values. Those probably align well with some independent voters. He could be an option for some of the anti-Trump Republicans.
The fantasy behind these alternative strategies is to win enough states to deny Trump or Clinton an electoral college majority, throwing the election into the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The secondary goal is to get would-be Republican voters turned off by Trump not to stay home but go to the polls and support their lower-tier candidates. Their real fear is that a Trump-led ticket could enable the Democrats to take back the Senate and possibly even the House.
A Republican-led third party or independent candidacy, even if unsuccessful, could validate Trump’s assertion that the system is rigged and fuel his supporters’ belief that their candidate was stabbed in the back by the Washington establishment. The grievances from that could fester for years to come.
In the final analysis, it might be better to lance the boil of Trumpism, let him take himself down in flames to Clinton one on one, and force the party to rebuild, articulating a thoughtful and coherent vision and implementing the GOP’s 2012 post-election blueprint, which they’ve ignored.
But given the public’s angry mood, Hillary’s historically high unfavorables, and the unpredictability of this election it’s not impossible to imagine the scariest of outcomes. We could be one October Surprise terrorist attack away from a Trump presidency.
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