Ever since Sen. Ted Cruz suspended his campaign and Donald Trump essentially secured the Republican nomination, certain elements of Conservative Inc. have been flailing about attempting to promote the idea of a third party challenge to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton that would more precisely reflect movement conservative pieties.
…So far, their efforts have not exactly.
There are many reasons for this that I don’t have time to cover in a short essay, but one of them is clearly logistics. It is incredibly difficult and expensive to run nationally as a third party or independent candidate. Some important state deadlines have already passed and some states have extremely difficult barriers to overcome to get on the ballot as an independent or third party candidate. The crucial state of Texas is an example of both of these problems. You almost have to use paid professional signature collectors in some states and at a couple of dollars a signature that’s not cheap. The #NeverTrump third party advocates have also indicated that they are prepared to mount expensive legal challenges in states were deadlines have already passed, and there is no guarantee that these challenges would even succeed.
It’s ironic that difficult ballot access laws have historically been a tool of the Establishment to force most voters into one of the two party boxes and quell opposition to the reigning paradigm. Now that a non-traditional candidate has managed to secure the nomination of a major party, perhaps the Powers That Be will rethink the wisdom of that strategy, but for now I will admit to taking a bit of perverse pleasure in watching many of the same people who told me third party voting was futile, and, therefore, I had to vote for Romney, McCain, Bush II, Dole, Bush I, etc. struggle with the same barriers us outsiders have always struggled with.
With the logistical difficulty of running a de novo independent or third party candidate, it has been suggested that the #NeverTrumpers should consider working within an existing third party that already has an infrastructure and ballot access in some states, but herein lies the real dilemma for #NeverTrump. There are no movement conservative, neoconish third parties to speak of. That sentiment resides entirely within the GOP and to a much lesser degree than they previously thought as the success of Donald Trump clearly indicates.
While many #NeverTrumpers insist that they can’t support Trump because of his demeanor or temperament or fitness for office, and I don’t doubt that some are sincere about this, don’t let the bulk of them kid you that their motivation is not ultimately about a certain set of issues. The leaders of #NeverTrump will pretend that they are standing up for the long-established conservative “principles” of budget and tax cutting, social issues like abortion and gender segregated bathrooms and foreign policy hawkishness, and again, I don’t doubt that some #NeverTrump foot soldiers are actually sincere about this, but this is a virtually transparent ruse for what is really going on.
Indeed, Trump doesn’t mouth the typical budget cutting and tax cutting pieties that movement conservative functionaries so love, but when was the last time these clowns significantly cut a budget? Paul Ryan just handed Obama everything he wanted on a silver platter in the omnibus budget bill, and yet he wants us to believe that he can’t support Trump because Trump isn’t a budget hawk? And while I have never seen a tax cut I don’t like, it’s funny how the kind of tax cuts that Con Inc. types favors, like cuts to the marginal rate or the capital gains rate, always seem to help the wealthy donor class the most. When was the last time you heard a #NeverTrump type advocate for cutting broad-based taxes like the federal gas tax or the FICA tax that would actually help the majority of people who vote for their party? And on social issues, the same people who wanted us to accept Romney’s and Bush I’s conversions on abortion at face value now tell us Trump can’t be trusted on the issue.
Give me a break. The opposition of the leadership of #NeverTrump is based on Trump’s explicit nationalism and economic populism and his more America First foreign policy. They just can’t say that in so many words because Trump’s position on immigration and opposition to international trade deals are popular with the base, and have long been the modal position of average Republican voters in Flyover Country. #NeverTrump seeks to maintain the globalist, transnationalist elite consensus favored by the donor class, but speaks of conservative “principles” and “ideals” to fool sincere but misled activists and voters.
If #NeverTrump were to look to an existing third party, the Constitution Party would be the most natural and obvious choice. It is the “more” conservative third-party alternative with by far the largest national footprint. Its nominee, Tennessee lawyer Darrell Castle, is not a “big name” outside CP circles, but he is a long time CP activist who the conservative box checkers, like many of those who supported Ted Cruz, would have a hard time finding fault with. The big name problem could also be dealt with easily with concerted #NeverTrump effort. A few strategic endorsements and well-placed mainstream and conservative media articles and editorials and Castle would be a big name overnight.
The problem for #NeverTrump, however, is that the CP is a paleoish party. The CP was initially formed in 1992 partially as a coalition of existing state conservative parties, primarily as a potential vehicle for a Pat Buchanan third party run after his unsuccessful primary challenge to George H. W. Bush. The CP is restrictionist on immigration, opposed to international trade deals and non-interventionist on foreign policy. While there has sometimes been some confusion among outsiders who apparently assume the party is just the GOP on steroids, and some internal contention within the party especially on foreign policy, the CP has always maintained, by and large, it paleo character. This makes it a problematic vehicle for the globalist, transnationalism leading #NeverTrump.
Then there is, of course, the Libertarian Party whose likely nominee is Gary Johnson. The Libertarian Party is the most well establish of all the third parties. It will likely be on the ballot in all 50 states in November. Gary Johnson is a former Republican Governor and a serious and credible guy for those who believe they are too sophisticated to vote for a “no-name” candidate or an “insignificant” party. The Libertarian Party is, for the most part, pro-open borders on immigration and pro-free trade which is acceptable to the #NeverTrump globalists. (There is some debate within the LP on immigration and whether trade deals, as opposed to free trade in theory, are a good thing, but Gary Johnson represents neither of those factions.) But the LP is even more doctrinaire non-interventionist on foreign policy than is the CP which still maintains some vestiges of movement conservative “peace through strength” and “strong military” rhetoric. This is wholly unacceptable to most #NeverTrumpers because the universalist rhetoric that is used to justify America’s outsized role in the world is what the support for open borders and trade deals rides in on. Without it, the rationale for an “outward looking” internationalist party rather than an inward-looking and self-interested nationalist party is lost.
And there you have the “major” “rightish” third party options unless #NeverTrump plans to hijack the Green Party. See what your Establishment efforts to quash third parties have wrought? There are some state level conservative parties, such as the American Independent Party in California, but they do not have a national presence. There are also some alternative conservative parties that exist mostly as internet websites, but they are almost always non-interventionist as well. Since foreign policy interventionism so dominates the Republican Party, it makes sense that outsiders who are dissatisfied with what the GOP has to offer would disproportionately be non-interventionists. There just isn’t any movement conservative but more so party out there for #NeverTrump to latch onto. Movement conservatives have generally been happy with the Republican Party because the Republican Party has more or less, at least rhetorically, supported their agenda.
Given this existing third party dynamic, #NeverTrump appears to be left with attempting to initiate a de novo third party or independent campaign as their only viable option. Perhaps they could call this new party the Phone Booth Party, because, from the looks of things, that’s where they’ll be able to hold their convention. And good luck with that “big name”.