Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How the Libertarian Party Could Win the White House

Polls persistently show that many, if not most voters, reach for one of those little white airline bags every time they think of the two leading Presidential candidates.  Never before have so many voters been so nauseated by so few candidates.

But if you look away from the mainstream press for a moment, you'd find out there are two other parties fielding Presidential candidates.  The Libertarian Party has nominated Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, for President, and William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, for Vice President.  The Green Party has nominated Jill Stein for President and Cheri Honkala for Vice President.  The Green Party has only a tiny presence in national politics.  But the Libertarian Party, seemingly a minor player, might actually have a shot at the White House.  Here's how.

To be elected President, a candidate in the first instance has to win a majority of the electoral votes (i.e., 270 of the 538 total electoral votes).  The Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution provides that if no candidate has a majority, the House of Representatives then selects the President from the top three candidates. 

If the two leading candidates are running neck-and-neck in electoral votes, a third party could deny each of the two top candidates a majority by winning one, two or a few states (and thereby denying the electoral votes from those few states to either of the leading contenders).  Even though the third party might not have anywhere near a majority, it could force the election into the House.

The contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is likely to be close; neither seems to be able to open up much of a lead over the other.  More importantly, Clinton's unremitting tawdriness and Trump's unerring aim at his own feet ensure that many voters will yearn for an alternative.  Johnson and Weld are experienced politicians will real electoral credentials, having respectively served as governors of their home states.  They are polling between 5% and 10% nationally.  But, in some conservative states, they might be able to become real contenders.  The Libertarian agenda of small government and low taxes might resonate strongly in states like Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, all of which gave primary victories to Ted Cruz over Donald Trump.  If Johnson and Weld won one or more of these states, and the electoral breakdown between Clinton and Trump is close, it's possible no candidate would have a majority of the electoral votes and the election would go to the House.

In the Republican-controlled House, Clinton would be toast.  Period.  Trump would have supporters.  But he'd have detractors, too.  The Libertarian platform would appeal to many Tea Party and other right-wing members of Congress.  Both Johnson and Weld were Republicans when they served as governors, and perhaps many members of the House would prefer them to the unpredictable Trump, who in the past was sometimes Democratic and sometimes Independent.  Johnson and Weld would have to demonstrate flexibility and open-mindedness.  The zealotry of many past Libertarian candidates has ensured the party would be marginalized.  But, having had much real-life experience in politics, Johnson and Weld might talk turkey well enough to win over a majority of the House.  And Speaker Paul Ryan's extremely tentative, to say the least, support of Trump would probably not present much of a barrier to a Libertarian victory if most of his Republican colleagues wanted to vote that way.

Of course, many mainstream Republicans in the House might well balk at supporting the Libertarian candidates.  But when they consider the alternative--Mr. Maniacal Mouth--they'd probably give Johnson and Weld a pretty close look.  All this may sound like an overly elaborate speculation on a very long shot.  But, given how weird this election has already been, it just might be the way things turn out.

No comments: