Politics & Policy

The Pros and Cons of an Independent Republican Ticket

Trump works the crowd at a rally in Fountain Hills, Ariz., Mach 19, 2016. (Ralph Freso/Getty)

It’s becoming clearer that, barring any unforeseen mishaps or modern miracles, Donald Trump will have the most delegates at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. While he may not reach the magic number (1,237 out of 2,472 delegates), he probably won’t be that far off.

In the event of this political nightmare coming to life, what will the anti-Trump Republicans do?

Supporters of the informal #NeverTrump movement have already made their intentions known. If Trump becomes the GOP presidential nominee, some have indicated they will vote for the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Others are hedging their bets, hoping for a brokered convention that could lead to another nominee: Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or someone else, perhaps Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan.

There is another strategy afoot. Some prominent conservative thinkers, including The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, favor a high-profile “Independent Republican ticket” as a means of combating Trump’s candidacy.

In a rapid-fire series of tweets, Kristol briefly outlined his vision for the so-called Track Two option:

Bill Kristol (@BillKristol): So, Track Two:

An Independent Republican could win, w/ Clinton at 56 unfav & Trump at 67, & possibility of Trump meltdown in general. (1/3)

(11:30 PM — 15 Mar 2016)

Bill Kristol (@BillKristol): (2/3) Track Two:

An Independent Republican would help down-ballot by giving non-Trump Republicans someone to come out for.

(11:31 PM — 15 Mar 2016)

Bill Kristol (@BillKristol): (3/3) Track Two:

Would an Independent Republican elect HRC? No. Nominating Trump does that. & if advisable the IR could withdraw at end.

(11:38 PM — 15 Mar 2016)

Kristol also proposed two realistic combinations (Mitt Romney–General John Kelly; Ben Sasse–Nikki Haley) and one amusing duo (Clarence Thomas–Mike Pompeo) that could compose this ticket. The possibilities are endless.

The bigger issue is whether or not an Independent Republican ticket would be the right move for the Right to make. So, let’s look at the pros and cons of this strategy.


​‐It could create more choice for small “c” conservative voters in November. It’s a given that parts of the GOP base will be frustrated with Trump as the presidential nominee. Hence, the Independent Republican ticket could provide another voting option in support of a more mainstream and acceptable conservative alternative.

​‐​It might help middle-of-the-road conservatives shift away from voting for Clinton. A few self-identified Republicans have already indicated they will support Clinton over Trump. You would think (or hope) that a respectable Independent Republican ticket with mainstream appeal would change the hearts and minds of some or all of them.

‐It may protect the Republican party’s history, legacy, and public image, albeit in a different vehicle. A hard-hitting communications strategy could be devised to attack Trump as a political outsider with no history in the party, and no conservative ideas and values to speak of. The Independent Republican duo could also claim to be the real Republicans in this race, arguing that the controversial businessman and his supporters have hijacked the party. If Trump’s candidacy could tarnish the grand old party, an independent ticket could preserve it.

It would make Trump angry. Even if you don’t support this ticket in theory, watching the Donald turn beet red has its fringe benefits!

‐The ticket just might win. No independent presidential candidate or third-party candidate has ever won the presidency. But perhaps this is the year when it will happen. It would be the most high-profile independent ticket since Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive-party campaign in 1912. It would also have more momentum than the populist, third-party campaigns of Strom Thurmond (1948), George Wallace (1968), and Ross Perot (1992, 1996). In this crazy electoral cycle, an Independent Republican victory could be the perfect ending.  



Abandoning the GOP because of Trump devalues the presidential primary process. If Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, his detractors might have to grit their teeth and accept it. His methods, ideas, and language have been abysmal at times, but there’s no question he has followed the rules and hasn’t done anything illegal. He’s ahead in the primaries because of his populist appeal, a solid ground game, and top-flight organizational skills. If Trump’s detractors leave the party because they didn’t get their chosen candidate, it would be perceived as sour grapes by many people. Making life difficult for Trump and the party hardly seems like the mature, responsible thing for conservatives to do.

Rejecting Trump’s candidacy and supporting the Independent Republican ticket could tear the party apart. If the GOP loses its stature as a “big tent” outfit, where all views and ideas are supposed to be a welcome part of the intellectual discourse, some party members and donors would probably opt out. Hence, the Independent Republican campaign could ultimately lead to the birth of two (or more) small “c” conservative parties that would have smaller bases of appeal, permanently wiping out the GOP.

The American conservative movement could be derailed. Some conservative grassroots activists probably wouldn’t take kindly to an Independent Republican ticket that competed with the GOP. In this scenario, “Trumpism” would have replaced conservatism as the party’s guiding light, and his detractors simply proved unable to handle this ideological shift. They could punish anti-Trump GOP politicians and vote them out of office. If some party members leave the conservative movement altogether, it could have a long-lasting negative effect on U.S. politics.

The third-party option sets a bad precedent for future presidential primaries. Let’s be frank: Whatever happens to Trump in July (at the convention) or in November (in the presidential election), he won’t be the first or last political candidate to be passionately liked or disliked. In time, someone else will run a volatile campaign. It might not be the same as the Donald’s crazy circus, but there will be another cast of characters under the big top. What are Republicans going to do: Abandon ship each and every time they dislike, or disagree with, the winner? I would hope not, because that’s not the answer. Party loyalty has to stand for something — and, once in a while, you have to stand with a candidate whom you don’t fully support.

‐The ticket could lose. As mentioned before, no independent or third-party candidate has ever been elected president. No one has come close, either. While the Independent Republican campaign would no doubt attract some powerful names, there’s no guarantee that it would succeed in winning popular support or the Electoral College. As well, if the the ticket in fact dropped out before November — as Kristol suggested might be “advisable” —  what would be the point of the venture? The gambit might turn out to be merely a foil to Trump, and an ineffective one, at that.  

#related#I’m obviously not suggesting that Republicans must vote for Trump. It’s up to them to make this decision. They also have the freedom to stay home, spoil their ballots, or support a small, existing right-leaning outfit such as the Constitution party or the Libertarian party.

But when it comes to an Independent Republican ticket, as tempting a strategy as it might be, I believe that it would massively backfire. When the cons outweigh the pros, the best move is to make no move at all.

Finally, I believe this ticket would only smooth Clinton’s path to the White House. That’s not something any Republican, pro-Trump or anti-Trump, should ever want or desire. No matter how much they might be repulsed by the likely GOP presidential nominee, there are better options than voting for the donkey.

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