Erick Erickson writes, “Hillary Clinton will be the President if Trump wins the nomination.” He worries that a third-party conservative candidacy might obscure that truth. Influential Trump supporters, he writes, have “convinced a segment of the American people that Trump is both inevitable and unstoppable. If a third party rises up to take on Trump, they’ll be able to point out that this third party is to blame for Trump’s loss, not that Trump was always going to lose.” The third party would let Trump’s boosters “escape accountability.” This might be a good reason for conservative Trump critics to refrain from running a third-party candidate.
Much of this is plausible: Clinton would be highly likely to defeat Trump in the absence of a third party, and many of his supporters would blame a Clinton victory in a three-candidate race on the anti-Trump conservatives.
But let me point out a consideration that weakens this argument against a third party. Even if Trump loses a two-person race in November, many of his boosters would blame it on anyone besides themselves and their candidate. Some Republican donors won’t contribute to Trump: It will be their fault. Some Republican politicians will fail to endorse Trump, or support him only tepidly: It’ll be their fault, too. Charles Krauthammer will keep criticizing Trump: It will be his fault. Some fraction of Trump’s supporters will react to a Trump defeat in November by saying that if only those elitists hadn’t all stabbed Trump in the back, he would have won. This chorus may well be joined by Trump himself, who has already informed us that he is a world-class whiner.
The stabbed-in-the-back view would probably be less prevalent if Trump lost a two-candidate race than if he lost a three-candidate one, but it’s a matter of degree only, and maybe not even a large one.