Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are two of the most unpopular nominees ever to run for president, yet third-party candidates don’t seem to be making much of a dent this election. Voters have plenty of options, including Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Jill Stein of the Green Party, and Evan McMullin, the apparent candidate of choice for so-called Never Trump Republicans.
Should voters take a closer look at third-party options this year? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Talking about third parties can bring to mind the oft-quoted prayer of St. Augustine: “Lord make me chaste — but not yet!”
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Which is to say: The United States would probably benefit from the emergence of strong and stable third parties that could compete for the presidency, Congress and even seats on your local school board. The differences between Democrats and Republicans do not contain the full breadth of political opinion in this country, and it’s possible that an increasingly cranky electorate might calm down a bit were it given a few more (realistic) options at the polls.
But, per Augustine: This isn’t quite the year to get that going.
First: Trump is the worst major-party nominee to compete for the presidency in recent memory — and perhaps ever. And while Clinton surely has her problems, we know what we’re getting with her: The republic will survive a Clinton presidency. Trump? He’s a nasty, vindictive narcissist who embodies every stereotype of inherited (and squandered) wealth you’ve ever heard. Every vote possible is needed to defeat him.
One other problem: The major third-party candidates this year just aren’t very good. You’ve already heard about Gary Johnson’s Aleppo problem, and Jill Stein seems to be pandering to anti-vaccination activists. Neither would make a good president, so why vote for them?
One exception: Polls show Evan McMullin, a conservative former CIA officer, running within striking distance of both Trump and Clinton in Utah. (Apparently Mormons, usually Republican, aren’t so hot on candidates associated with lengthy histories of vulgar womanizing. Who knew?) There’s a chance he could win the state’s electoral votes — and it’s kind of difficult not to root for him.
Why? Because the rebellion of a solid-red state like Utah would give Never Trump Republicans a chance to cleanse their party: If the GOP loses usually loyal voters because of Trump, party leaders will know there’s no point running him or his ilk for president.
Aside from McMullin, though, it’s best to put third-party candidates out of mind for another, better election. They’re fine in theory, but this election is all about ugly, brutal reality. Maybe next time.
It doesn’t feel like a good time to be a Democrat or a Republican, does it?
Clinton and Trump are the weakest to come along in decades. Both bring to mind that great old song from The Simpsons about mediocre presidents. Much like Zachary Taylor, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore or Rutherford B. Hayes, these two are unlikely to ever wind up on our currency.
The third-party candidates aren’t much better. But don’t believe the line, peddled by practically every Democratic or Republican partisan, that a vote for the Libertarian or the Green or the independent conservative is a vote for Trump or Hillary (whichever is worse in your view).
You don’t owe the Republican or the Democrat your vote or anything else for that matter. Much like respect and an honest buck, a vote must be earned. Has Clinton earned your vote? Has Trump?
One of them will win the presidency. But your vote isn’t necessary for their victory. A third party is a perfectly respectable way to go, especially if winning ranks low among your priorities. Failure is not only an option; it’s a certainty.
Libertarians had high hopes for Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld. Both men were successful during their tenures as Republican governors of Democratic states. They may score a technical victory with 5 percent of the popular vote, which would entitle the famously anti-government Libertarian Party to federal election funds in 2020.
McMullin, an independent, appears to be polling well in Utah at the moment. But when it comes down to it, his chances of winning that state or neighboring Idaho, thereby throwing the election to the House of Representatives — the sole rationale for his candidacy — is vanishingly small.
And Green Party candidate Stein is so far to the left that she is meeting Trump on the right. The other day, Stein said Trump would be a better choice than Clinton because Clinton is so in thrall to corporate interests.
On second thought, it doesn’t feel like a good time to be a Libertarian, an independent or a Green, either. The most powerful vote in 2016 may be abstention. None of the above never looked so good.