Therefore, we can leave the main stage to its script and observe a sidelight which the audience has barely spotted: the likelihood of dramatic storyline change from third-, fourth, or even fifth-party candidacies of a significant nature.
Hey, ho, what's the Scenario?
The discussion starts with the most likely major-party matchup: Clinton vs. Jeb Bush. One cannot say it is probable, as there are too many other possible outcomes, and the current momentum for both candidates is probably downward; however, it is clearly the one with the highest probability. For example, the current quote on oddshark.com, drawing on the sportsbook Bovada, a place where people bet real money--note: not Americans!--has the Clinton-Bush matchup favored at -250 vs. all other alternatives +170.
For me, this matchup is also the one that is most certain to draw other candidacies, as an open bowl of fruit will draw fruit flies (I avoided more vulgar comparisons). There are a host of people in both parties who declare they would never vote for Clinton, or for Bush, and of course at least as many among independents, and power abhors a vacuum--somebody will look at the discontent and say, "Why not me?" Clinton-Bush is a matchup that could draw challenges from any of the three alternate directions I think are likely in the 2016 race:
- Populists, moderately libertarian, who object to both candidates' corporativist, militarily-hawkish perceived stances;
- Right-wingers for whom Bush is too liberal on subjects like immigration; and
- Left-wingers for whom Clinton is too moderate.
Substitute some other relatively-moderate Republican establishment type (Kasich, Fiorina, Pataki, Christie, if he should dare to present himself) for Bush and the scenario and the opportunity remain the same.
There is a much less likely possibility for a fourth angle of opposition, if the Republicans nominate an extreme right-winger (Perry, Cruz, Santorum, or Walker, if he fails to moderate his positions during the campaign) or someone totally out of the mainstream political establishment (Paul, Carson, Trump!); then, after a fractious party convention, there could be a split among Republicans with a moderate daring to uphold the sensible party line.
Finally, there is the possibility of a single-issue, or regional candidate emerging. Historically, this has been the most-frequent source of third-party challenges. There are a host of possible issues that could become salient, if the major-party nominees don't give it attention: anti-immigration, pro- or anti-abortion, pro- or anti-gun control, pro- or anti-war, opposing the trade deals, states rights, judicial reform, drought, flooding, marijuana decriminalization, etc. These candidacies probably, but not necessarily, fit into one of the four types mentioned above.
The trickiest part is identifying who the third-party hero, or heroes, will be. I have to give Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal some credit for pointing out in a recent column the potential for a populist third-party to arise. He goes through all the good reasons, but then, because he can't identify the person who will have the resources or the courage to oppose, he concludes that it is something more likely for a future Presidential cycle. I disagree with him on that; he cites specifically the trade accords as being a hot topic, but that one will be long gone by 2020. The time, and the opportunity, is now (or next year, rather), and Bush-Clinton would be the perfect foil.
By definition, any challenger should be someone who is disaffected from both parties, or at least from the temporary direction of his/her party. Going up against your party's nominee is writing off your future within the party for a long time. Anyway, here are some names I have come up with:There is also the possibility, though I can't name him, of some megabuck CEO with somewhat unconventional views whose point of view isn't being listened to, someone who fancies himself as Ross Perot redux, or a woman candidate frustrated if Hillary Clinton cannot get the nomination (it is still true that no major party has nominated a woman as the Presidential nominee).
- Rand Paul - He has estranged himself from the party regulars with his current stance against re-affirming the Patriot Act with its infringement on civil liberties. He also is unique among all his party's candidates in many of his positions, his libertarians get very little respect from Republican party regulars, and he could choose to go the reverse direction from his father's history: from the Republican party, to the Libertarian Party. One particular scenario would be if he shows real strength among independents, and the young, but can't get any delegates because of party rules.
- Lincoln Chaffee - He is running as a Democrat, and no one seems to know why. His history (previous terms as a Republican, and an independent) marks him as anything but a party loyalist..
- Ted Cruz - His route to his Senate seat included defying the party regulars in Texas to win his primary, and he doesn't seem to be getting much respect in the shadow primary. Plus, he's an opportunist..
- Mike Huckabee - He seems a party regular, but with his independent power base (evangelicals, plus millions of Fox News devotees) he could attract some support for an indpendent run. He also is getting no respect, despite showing decently in the early polls.
- Donald Trump - Because he can. It wouldn't hurt his p.r., and he has the money.
- Al Sharpton - Or, it could be some other prominent African-American who feels the Democrats are not giving sufficient attention to his ethnic group's concerns..
- Bernie Sanders - I really don't think he's going to run; however, it's well-known that he is not a Democratic party regular. We'll see how it goes in the primaries: if he can't move Clinton toward a couple of his platform planks, he may feel he has to run..
- Bill McKibben, or some other radical advocate of initiatives to counter climate change (think: Green Party).
- George Pataki - I see him as the most likely moderate Republican to respond negatively to a Tea Party-type nominee..
- Ralph Nader - He's still around, isn't he?
The Needle and The Damage Done
If you read up on the recent Parliamentary elections in the U.K. (for example, my previous post), you will see that third-party candidacies add unpredictability to a "first past the post" election--which the Presidential election is, a mosh of 51 state races to gain a simple plurality in each--in two ways: strength in a single state could deprive a major party of expected Electoral College votes, and broader strength can upset the dynamics of the national popular vote. (I exclude here the possibility of a third-party candidate actually winning the election. It has never happened in the US, unless you consider Abraham Lincoln's win in 1860 to be that; he won as the majority faction of a split major party.)
A challenge from a breakway candidate or an outsider, from either the left or right wing, should be expected to hurt the chances of the Democrat, or Republican, respectively. A challenge in the middle, or a populist candidacy coming from either party, or from a true independent, would have an effect that is much more difficult to predict (note the effect of the Perot candidacy, which probably hurt the Republicans more, or of Republican John Anderson's in 1980, which probably hurt the Democrats more). Clearly, Clinton and Bush (or any other major party nominee) will each try to suppress the possibility of a challenge, relying on the inevitability that a major-party candidate will end up winning, and urging the wavering not to waste their votes. Their "unified" stance--as for example, in national debates--would be to cooperate to keep those other folks out of the running, and at the same time to pose himself/herself as the only one who can prevent that Other Person from getting the White House.