An Independent Must Seek, Will Win, Oval Office

Conservative activists trying to recruit a third major candidate for president are doing so not just because they find Donald Trump repugnant on multiple levels — although they do — but also because they think multi-candidate way is the most achievable way of keeping Hillary Clinton from the Oval Office.

They — we — believe Trump is not conservative, not an advocate of liberty, not a lover of the Constitution, not ethical, not honest, not wise, not decent and not emotionally or intellectually stable. We want a champion of limited government, of traditional values, of freedom, and of well-tempered military and diplomatic strength, and we want our champion to have deep integrity. Trump fits none of those criteria.

We believe that, sometimes despite their own worst inclinations, the American people deserve a better choice than one between the authoritarian prevaricator, Trump, and the corrupt leftist Hillary Clinton. More than that, though, we believe — through rigorous analysis — that the American people actually will respond to a multi-candidate choice by denying both Trump and Clinton the 270 electoral votes needs to win the presidency outright. If Trump and Clinton are the only two major candidates, though, we believe Clinton will trounce him.

This belief runs counter to the sudden meme, based on recent polls, that Trump is an even-money bet to defeat Clinton. But that meme is based on an eminently predictable spike in Trump polling that is 1) almost certainly unsustainable; and 2) is not matched by his chances to win the only place that really matters, in the Electoral College.

The spike, vis-à-vis Clinton, is unsustainable because it comes through a natural bandwagon effect that almost always occurs, but rarely lasts, once a candidate becomes the presumptive nominee if and while the other party still is embroiled in civil war. When the Democrats finally coalesce, the spike will move in their direction.

If Trump and Clinton are the only two major candidates, though, Clinton will trounce him

Far more important than the raw percentages, though, is the Electoral College map. The reality is that Trump likely would gain popular votes (compared to other, generic Republican presidential candidates) in places where the votes won’t help him reach 270 electors, but loses votes in places that could actually pad the Democrats’ current electoral advantage.

In short, Trump’s net gains may earn him not a single new electoral vote in a head-to-head race. He could, and probably will, get 10 percent more of the vote than ordinary Republicans in New York and 5 percent more in New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, California, and Washington State, and still lose all of those states in 55-45 percent landslides (or 54-46 percent in Washington State). That’s in excess of 1.5 million votes more than another Republican, in just six states, all to not the slightest avail in the Electoral College.

Most other states where Trump may well gain votes amount merely to padding a Republican lead — again, with no Electoral College benefit. It matters not that Trump may bolster his share of Kentucky votes from Mitt Romney’s 60 percent to, say, 64 percent: Those extra 43,000 ballots for him don’t earn a single new elector. Likewise, Trump may build somewhat on Romney’s margins in Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee, and perhaps Indiana.

So Trump can garner close to 2 million more votes than Romney, and bolster his overall “horse race” percentages, without even coming close to chipping away at the 332-206 electoral-vote lead bequeathed by Obama to Romney.

On the other hand, in several states where Trump looks like he’ll lose votes, it could actually give Clinton an even bigger electoral cushion than Obama had. Recent polls in supposedly solid-Republican states such as Utah, Arizona, Mississippi, and Georgia showed the two candidates in statistical ties; the most recent in highly competitive North Carolina (Romney won it with just 50.4 percent in 2012) showed Clinton up 9 there. (Granted, that was before Trump’s current national “surge,” but the point is that Trump is in serious danger of losing the Tar Heel State.) Also, Missouri and even Texas could conceivably slip away from Trump – the latter, of course, being a death knell if it happens.

Conclusion: Trump could run nearly even with Clinton in the popular-vote totals but lose in a similar electoral landslide to John McCain’s loss in 2008.

Trump could run nearly even with Clinton in the popular-vote totals but lose in a similar electoral landslide to John McCain’s loss in 2008

Yes, there are a few possible exceptions to this scenario. Recent (post-spike) polls showed Trump putting both Florida and Pennsylvania in play (Pennsylvania always is “in play” for Republicans until the actual votes come in and swamp them), and one can even imagine Trump turning out enough coal-country voters in southwestern Virginia to somehow steal it back, too. But even if Trump does win those three, and holds all the ordinarily red states he is in danger of losing, Clinton would still sit right at 270 electoral votes – her magic number for a win.

This worst-case scenario for Clinton, and best for Trump, is almost crazily wishful thinking for Trumpites: With hard negatives that haven’t dropped beneath about 58 percent since Trump announced for president a year ago (and a net-negative — positive ratings minus negative — of an astonishing 29 points in the recent NBC/WSJ poll), Trump’s room for growth is nearly nil. With his volatile personality, he is far more likely to finally self-detonate like a suicide bomber than he is to somehow make any of the 58 percent suddenly like him.

In short, Clinton, even as unpopular as she is, will squash him.

On the other hand, the unique unpopularity of both of them (along with some of Trump’s lesser but still unique political strengths) will allow the accustomed red-state/blue-state electoral map to be scrambled, if a strong third candidate enters the race, in ways that in ordinary years would be unimaginable. This is especially true if the Libertarian nominees form a stronger-than-expected fourth candidacy and wisely run leftward, rather than rightward, in order to attract Bernie Sanders’ voters — particularly millennials who swarmed to support Barack Obama but who, polls show, are displeased by and often hostile to both Trump and Clinton.

If that happens, Clinton’s vote would be eroded from the left at the same time that Trump takes an unusual share of working-class whites (the center) away from the Democratic ticket. Result: Clinton would be held below the magic 270 electoral votes, probably all the way down to about 225. But, at the same time, Trump would lose almost the entire Great Plains and mountain west to the conservative third candidate, along with a smattering of other ordinarily “red” states. The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives — which, if still in Republican control, surely would choose between Trump and the Conservative Candidate (henceforth called CC).

Let’s use Nebraska’s Ben Sasse as an example. The first term U.S Senator fits the profile of what many voters say they want: He has a little experience in the Senate — just enough to understand it, but not enough to have been co-opted by its ways. But he also has a tremendous record of accomplishment outside of it. A Nebraska boy who made good, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, three (yes, three!) masters degrees, and a Ph.D. from Yale. He then had 10 very successful years as a businessman, a stint as chief of staff at a top division of the Justice Department, and reformist, high-level duty at both Homeland Security and in federal health-care policy. He then spent three years revitalizing the tiny Midland University, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as its president.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 3: Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)  (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

A candidate like Sasse fits the profile that many voters want in this presidential cycle. | Photo: AP

So his experiences are broad, his accomplishments many, his brilliance undeniable — and, in addition, his outlook and disposition are positive, even sunny, and oriented to solutions and the future rather than settling bitter scores from the past.

Somebody like that would attract tens of millions of votes from among “soccer moms,” professionals (including younger ones), church-going Evangelicals, and anybody else who just can’t pull the lever for a Trumpish vulgarian or another corrupt Clinton.

I’ve seen four-way vote projections based on various assumptions about very possible voter behavior, with most of them forcing the election to the House. One, an eminently practical scenario, would produce an almost even three-way split in electoral votes among Clinton, Trump, and CC. (One, an admitted outlier, could become far more realistic if the various legal problems of both Clinton and Trump intensify: In it, CC actually wins a clean majority of electoral votes even as Clinton holds the 13 most partisan Democratic states like New York, California and Illinois while Trump holds the states George Wallace won in 1968.)

None of this is search-for-unicorn stuff. These scenarios are all at least as realistic, several of them more so, than one in which Trump somehow upsets Clinton head to head. At least one solid survey shows that an independent candidate would pull more votes from Clinton than from Trump, further bolstering the idea that such an effort would block Clinton’s path to the Oval Office rather than clearing it. And five surveys in the past week show record levels of openness, among the general public, to an independent candidacy.

Fairly recent history proves that a third candidate can be more than merely competitive. In 1992, Ross Perot was hardly a household name. But on March 12, he opened a phone line in his office to accept names of volunteers for his potential campaign. Within weeks, he was at the top of the polls. Well into June, he actually led the race, at 39 percent in the polls to 31 percent for the elder President Bush and 25 percent for Bill Clinton. And this was without the Internet, Fox News, modern social media, iPhones, and all the rest of the ways people these days achieve instant celebrity. It is far easier today than in 1992 to quickly establish both name identification and credibility.

Fairly recent history proves that a third candidate can be more than merely competitive

Of course, people will say, but Perot lost and handed the election to Clinton. But that’s only because, having reached the top of the polls, he then started a Crazy Uncle routine — then literally dropped out of the race from July until well into September — and then, upon re-entering, continued to blather outlandish nonsense about Bush supposedly trying to disrupt his daughter’s wedding.

And he still got nearly 20 percent of the vote.

The key lesson is not his loss, but his rise to the top of the polls at 39 percent. A solid conservative candidate this year can do the same — and then stay there, because he will neither drop out of the race suddenly nor pull a Crazy Uncle routine. In fact, if anybody starts losing votes because he sounds like a Crazy Uncle, it is not the third candidate but Donald Trump — and the third candidate will be there to pick up the pieces.

Finally (for now), conservatives must understand how imperative it is that Republicans maintain their House majority and at least have a fighting chance to retain the Senate. With Trump turning off so many people who habitually vote, and vote Republican, there is a real danger that so many of these voters will stay home that Republicans will lose the Senate and even the House in addition to getting demolished for the Oval Office. A conservative third candidate, however, lessens this risk substantially. By attracting millions of these voters back to the polls — voters who, while there, will pull the lever for GOP Senate and House candidates too — the third presidential candidate will help save Congress and the country from left-wing domination.

In sum, from the standpoint of positive-solutions-oriented conservatives, a third party bid is both necessary and eminently winnable. And with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump being morally, experientially, temperamentally, attitudinally and philosophically unfit for the Oval Office, a third-candidate bid is a moral imperative.

Quin Hillyer is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. He is a 40-year veteran of conservative journalism and activism, now living in Mobile, Alabama. You can follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.