By NEIL KING JR. – – – – –
If ever there was an election crying out for a viable third candidate, this would be it. The two front-runners are the least popular in decades. Large numbers of voters say they would love to see someone else jump in.
But don’t count on it happening—at least not this time.
Are the parties themselves weak? Consider this: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both have extremely tenuous ties to the parties whose nomination they now seek. The first is now the odds-on favorite to become the GOP nominee, while the second is giving the mighty Hillary Clinton a run for her money on the Democratic side.
And yet the hunger for someone else remains strong, as does a palpable sense of disgruntlement running through both parties.
Last week in Ohio, 54% of Republican primary voters told exit pollsters that they felt betrayed by the GOP. On the Democratic side, around a quarter of voters in Florida, Ohio and Illinois said they would be unsatisfied if Mrs. Clinton wins the nomination. And if Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton end up as the two nominees, 45% of Ohio Republican voters said they would consider a third party.
The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll provides similar evidence of a hunger for more. Nearly half of those polled said they would consider voting for an independent candidate, up from 38% in 2008 and 40% in 2012.
This year, the deepest angst is clearly on the right, where Mr. Trump’s rise has stirred an extraordinary backlash within the party, with his foes now focused on trying to strip the nomination from Mr. Trump at a contested convention in July.
Third-party advocates have made numerous doomed efforts in recent years to erect an alternative platform free of either party. And each time they have crumbled, primarily because they lacked a strong personality—or a central idea—to build upon.
“If all the people who want a third party could agree on what they want in a third party, we would have one,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman who supports the push to find an alternative to the two-party system.
It’s worth noting that there will likely be at least one other contender on presidential ballots nationwide alongside whoever wins the Democratic and Republican nomination, and that is the Libertarian Party nominee.
The Libertarians haven’t gotten on all state ballots in either of the past two presidential cycles, but they will be on 32 state ballots by Monday, and are on track to be on all 50 by the fall.
For now, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson appears to be the front-runner for the May convention, but the party’s national committee chairman, Nicholas Sarwark, says it’s possible others from the outside could step up to compete.
A candidate like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he said, “could certainly enter the process.” But Mitt Romney, the last GOP nominee, would not be welcomed, he said.
And if it is Mr. Johnson, don’t look for him to shake things up. As the 2012 Libertarian nominee, he got 1.2 million votes–the most by an independent candidate in over a decade, but still just under 1% of the total.