In 1789 and 1792 George Washington, the father of our country, was elected and reelected president without major opposition. In 1796, with the emergence of our two-party system, John Adams, the nominee of the Federalist Party, defeated Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic Republican Party. Over time, parties changed names and new ones came and went. The Democrat Republicans became, simply, the Democrats; and the Whigs faded away as did Millard Fillmore’s Know-Nothing Party. In 1860, Abrahan Lincoln became the first Republican Party President. No member of a minor party has ever been elected president.
The list of third-party candidates losing to victorious Democrats or Republicans over the last 100 years includes Progressive Robert La Follette in 1924; both Strom Thurmond of the States Rights Party and Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party in 1948; George Wallace of the American Independence Party in 1968; and Independent John Anderson in 1980, none of whom got enough votes to alter the election outcome.
That changes in 1992, when a third-party candidate with no chance of winning, got enough popular votes to be a “spoiler.” Running as an Independent, H. Ross Perrot a Navy veteran, pro-military, business magnate promised to balance the budget by cutting government spending and waste. He received just under 20 million votes in an election won by Democrat Bill Clinton over Republican incumbent President George H. W. Bush by a margin of less than 6 million votes. Had Perrot not been on the ballot, most of his votes would undoubtedly have gone to Bush, reelecting him. Perrot ran again in 1996, helping Clinton defeat Republican Bob Dole.
But the granddaddy of all third-party spoilers was unequivocally Ralph Nader, the left-wing, enviro, anti-business, nannyist, radical activist who had attracted very few votes in his three previous failed presidential quests but got just enough in 2000 to cost Vice President Al Gore the presidency. With the winner in 49 states already determined, the election was decided by a margin of only 537 votes in Florida out of 6 million combined votes cast for Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. Bush tallied 2,912,790 and Gore, 2,912,253. However, running as the Green Party candidate, Nader got 97,488 votes (1.6% of the total.) If 269 people who had wasted their vote on Nader had voted for Gore, he’d have won the presidency.
Of course, ideologues and idealists are free to be principled and impractical. But since 2000, a great many voters on the political fringes have wised up and voted for the lesser of evils, as they see it, in one of the two major parties. Polls show Biden’s reelection prospects sinking against almost any Republican. It more than possible that his mental and physical decline will be so blatantly obvious before November 2024, that he’ll be forced to bow out of the race. But even if he limps to the Election Day finish line, a credible third-party spoiler, like Joe Manchin could cost him the election, as Democrat leaders clearly fear.
Manchin, who occasionally votes with Republicans, is a relatively moderate Democrat but only in the context of a party that’s been taken over by the radical progressive left. His overall Senate voting record certainly isn’t conservative. If he ran as the third-party “No Labels” presidential candidate he’d steal many more votes from Biden than from any Republican, especially by so-called independents most of whom routinely vote for Democrats.
Except for a climactic event like a conviction in one of his criminal trials, Trump now seems to be the presumptive GOP nominee. But outside of his unwavering, idolizing core — perhaps one-third of the electorate — his appeal in the general election is much narrower. To build a winning electoral coalition a candidate must be “additive.” And Trump hasn’t sufficiently broadened his appeal. He’s been more “subtractive.” While his policies are generally popular, his style has repelled many potential swing voters, especially women. As such, he’s become a turnout magnet drawing many who wouldn’t bother to participate, at all, to cast a ballot just to vote against him.
Trump might still beat a senile Joe Biden, and I’d rather see him president rather than any Democrat leading the radical progressive movement, but both Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley are highly qualified and may be more electable than Trump. Even more so if Biden drops out and is replaced by Gavin Newsome or Michelle Obama.
Perish the thought, but another wild card could be at play. Flashback to the Florida leftists who voted for Nader in 2000 and cost Gore the presidency. If Trump somehow isn’t the GOP nominee, let’s hope his loyalists have better sense than to spitefully withhold their vote from any Republican, thus condemning themselves and the nation to four more years of a progressive Democrat presidency. Good grief!
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.