Politics & Policy

What Chance Would a Third-Party Candidate Have?

Mitt Romney at a John Kasich campaign rally in Ohio. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Retuers)
It’s time for a look at the anti-Trump field.

Now that Donald Trump has sewn up the Republican nomination, never-Trump conservatives are talking seriously about third-party candidates. Smart conservatives — people I respect — are talking about Gary Johnson, the attractively libertarian but disastrously isolationist ex-governor of New Mexico. Some have already pulled the trigger, so to speak, and started hosting fundraising brunches for him. Other smart conservatives (including National Review’s own Reihan Salam) suggest Mitt Romney. Still others, including a few who threaten to vote for Hillary, hope New York City’s moderate-leftist ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg will run.

What would their chances be?

If Bloomberg runs, Trump will be elected. Bloomberg would pick off a few angry Republicans, but as a gun-, smoke-, and soda-banning big-government guy, he would have more support among blue-dog Democrats than among never-Trump Republicans. He would probably tip Florida, Ohio, and Virginia to Trump, which would put Trump at least two Electoral College votes over the threshold of 270. This is the logic that persuaded Bloomberg to announce last month that he would not run third-party. But he might reconsider; he’s very ambitious, and he endeared himself to the Right this week by attacking coddled undergraduates and their safe spaces. If he does run, it’s vanishingly unlikely that he’d win so much as a single electoral vote.

RELATED: After Trump, Conservatives Must Continue to Explore Their Options

Likewise Gary Johnson. Johnson will definitely run, and will certainly have at least a small-scale reverse-Bloomberg effect: He’ll peel off a few classically liberal liberals but many more small-government conservatives. He won’t win an electoral vote either — even if, per a few grandiose predictions, he clears 10 percent of the popular vote. But he might hand Hillary the White House.

#share#Then there’s Mitt Romney. Mitt would win electoral votes — six of them, in Utah, where he won 73 percent of the vote in 2012 (his best state), and where Trump won just 14 percent of the primary vote, finishing behind both Cruz and Kasich. Nationwide, he would attract substantially more support than Gary Johnson, inevitably giving Hillary an enormous electoral landslide. Unless

– Mitt were to run only in Utah. If Hillary wins Virginia, Ohio, or Florida, it’s all over; she has a majority. But if Trump carries all three, Utah’s six electoral votes would be the difference between a Trump majority of 272, and a Trump–Hillary tie of 266 each. (Assuming, as I do, that Colorado will go Hillary.)

When no one has a majority in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives takes over. Each state delegation gets one vote; currently, the Democrats have a majority of members in 15 delegations, 32 are Republican- majority, and the remaining three are tied.

If the House decides the election, Hillary will have no chance.

If the House decides the election, Hillary will have no chance. So Utah and the Democratic delegations would vote Romney in preference to Trump, along — presumably — with the three tied delegations, which would be forced to compromise. That would give Trump a 31 to 19 lead. Could Romney win over enough Republican representatives to pick up seven more delegations?

It’s possible. Romney could swing eight Republican-majority delegations by changing the mind of a single member of each. In four more, changing the mind of one member would split the delegation in half, between Republicans and Democrats plus Romney-Republicans. Several of those states were strongly anti-Trump in the primaries, and several will have voted for Hillary, so reasonable cases could be made.

RELATED: A Third Party Option Is Culturally Critical

For those unwilling to pin their hopes on so many long shots paying off, there’s another option — total chaos. If Romney and Bernie Sanders were both to enter the race as third-party candidates, every single state would be in play.

#related#Would it be hard to get Sanders into the race as a third-party candidate? I doubt it. This is his big year — and with Romney in the race too, he would have a slight chance of actually winning. If he did get in, he and Hillary would split the vote in reliably Democratic states, opening the door for Trump or Romney. In reliably Republican states, Trump and Romney would split the rightist vote, opening the door for Bernie or Hillary. It would be a battle royal; like the previous scenario, it would likely end with a vote in the House. (Which would choose from the top three electoral-vote-getters.)

Of course, there’s one last option: learning to love Trump. Decide for yourself what’s most realistic.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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