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Third Party Presidential Candidates
Thursday, 2016 August 18 - 5:29 pm
I've posted some thoughts about third-party Presidential candidates in comments on other people's Facebook posts, but I'd like to give it a more thorough treatment, and it's probably better to do it on my own blog instead. (I'll talk about third parties in Congressional elections in a follow-up post.)

Here's the thing: the American Presidential election is a two-party process. A guy who gets 20% of the electoral college vote doesn't get to be President 20% of the time... and a guy who gets 20% of the popular vote might not get any electoral college votes at all. So unless you really think your third-party candidate has a real shot at winning, what you're really doing by voting third-party is abstaining from the two-party race.

Abstaining is a legitimate choice, but you may be acting against your own self-interests by allowing your most hated candidate to win. This is especially true for disaffected Bernie supporters who might consider voting for Jill Stein: maybe that defection tilts the election to Donald Trump. Have their progressive ideals been served in that case? Almost certainly not.

Now, I can see the dilemma if youre a traditional conservative: neither Hillary nor Donald are true conservatives in this race, so maybe neither candidate fits your policy views. And maybe you think theyd be equally bad at actually performing the job of President. (Id strongly disagree with you there, but its a defensible position, depending on your viewpoint.) So maybe you've decided you're going to vote third-party, or not vote at all, because you don't know what else to do. I understand your position, and I genuinely sympathize.

But the fact is, your third-party guy (Gary Johnson, probably) is still not going to win. Third parties never win. Party shifts happen when one of the major parties disintegrates, and a new opposition party rises up against the majority party. But the result is always two parties, in the end. The closest a third party came to winning was John C. Breckinridge in 1860 (who was a Democrat, really, but there was a north/south split in the party in the run-up to the Civil War), and Teddy Roosevelt's progressive Bull Moose party in 1912. In both cases, the third-party candidates were really supported by splinter factions of one of the major parties, and ended up losing their elections in a landslide by splitting their original party's vote. Moreover, In the case of Teddy Roosevelt, the defection of Progressives from the Republican party allowed conservatives to dominate the party for years afterwards, thus diminishing the political power of the Progressive movement.

So that's a valuable lesson for Republicans: if you leave the Republican party and join, say, the ranks of the Libertarians, then you risk ceding the Republican party to the Trumpists, and perhaps then you leave yourself with no one in Washington to carry the banner of conservatism.

So what to do?

If you're a liberal, who favors women's rights, minority rights, progressive tax systems, and universal healthcare, I think you have no choice but to vote for Hillary Clinton. She's the standard-bearer for those causes, and regardless of what you think of her personally, she's the one who is going to champion what you believe in.

Please spare me the "SHILLary is a LIAR who STOLE the election" nonsense. For one thing, statements like that are not thoughtful arguments substantiated by facts, and you gain no credibility with me with name calling and hyperbole. For another, even if it what you were saying were true, that has no bearing on whether your own interests will be served based on the results of the election. What do you think is better: having a President you dislike but will serve your causes and priorities in government, or having a President you absolutely despise and will work against everything you believe in? If you're a progressive, the choice should be obvious. Jill Stein is not going to come close to winning. Gary Johnson is not a progressive. Donald Trump is certainly not a progressive. A protest vote only gives Trump a better chance of winning, and that should be the last thing you want.

(Let's take a quick sidebar: Is Hillary a liar? Objectively she's more truthful than most of her peers. And I roll my eyes at any mention of Benghazi, or emails. Eight lengthy and combative investigations resulted in the conclusion that she did absolutely nothing wrong in Libya, and if anything, budget cuts by Republican Congresses were responsible for a shortfall in the security staff at the embassies. And with her private emails, she continued a practice that was employed by many other officials, including her predecessors, and where no secrets were demonstrably compromised until after Congress forced her to make those emails public.)

One thing I've seen thrown around is that some progressives want to see Trump win so that the Democratic party is destroyed (so that a Bernie-esque democratic-socialist party can rise in its place). That could happen, yes... but you'd have to be willing to endure possibly decades of Trumpism before you get there, and there's no guarantee that the party that rises from the ashes of the Democratic party will support progressive causes either. Maybe the two major parties become the Trumpists and the Libertarians, and there's no one to champion progressive causes at all. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

So, no. If you're a progressive, I don't think you have a choice. Vote for Hillary.

If you're a conservative, whether you're a fiscal conservative who believes in small government and less regulation, or a social conservative who believes the government should uphold traditional values... well, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is, you might still have an opportunity to have your views represented in Washington this election cycle, by voting in Congressional elections... and by pressuring your Republican candidates to disavow Trump's big-government (and borderline fascist) positions on immigration, trade, and executive authority. Social conservatives can demand that the Republican candidates speak out against Trump's misogyny, racism, and religious intolerance.

The bad news is, you have pretty much zero chance that your views will be represented in the Oval Office this election. And worse, electing either Trump or Johnson probably ends in the same result: the Republican party becomes the party of Trump, and traditional conservatism gets thrown out the window.

Maybe you hope that the election will end up in the hands of the House of Representatives (by denying both Trump and Hillary the 270 electoral college votes needed to win). That's unlikely to happen. And keep in mind that only the top three vote-getters will be eligible for that House vote (so no, you can't vote in Paul Ryan), and while Republicans control two thirds of the House delegations, there's no telling whether they'd vote for Trump or Johnson (neither of whom have many connections in the House), or whether they'd split their votes... in which case, the office might fall to the Vice President, who would be elected by a potentially Democratically-controlled Senate, so you might be looking at President Tim Kaine. It's a wild gamble, and in any event, the Republican Party would fall into utter chaos.

So frankly, there's probably one more option that you should consider (and hold your nose, because you're gonna hate it): vote for Hillary Clinton, and squash Donald Trump in the largest landslide in election history. That might be your only chance of letting sane conservative voices re-take control of the Republican party, and survive to put a better candidate in place in a future election. Reject Trumpism, reject racist nationalism, and reject demagoguery. Accept climate change as a real thing, accept gay marriage as a settled issue, and work to expand voting access instead of disenfranchising minorities. By doing this, you might be able to reclaim the political center for your party, while still holding to the principles that matter to you the most. Since the days of Thomas Jefferson, political parties have always either evolved or perished. This is a defining moment for the Republican party. Which way would you like to see it go?

(I no longer allow public comments on my blog, due to spam and trolling. Feel free to comment on the related post on my Facebook page, if you're a friend.)
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