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Why Trump may choose to run third-party in 2024

The Hill logo The Hill 1/29/2022 Douglas MacKinnon, opinion contributor
Why Trump may choose to run third-party in 2024 © Getty Images Why Trump may choose to run third-party in 2024

During the 1992 election, Texas billionaire Ross Perot managed to get on the ballot as an independent presidential candidate in all 50 states and garnered 19 percent of the vote. It was a remarkable feat that - in the eyes of some Republicans, including President George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush - tipped the election to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Keep in mind, that percentage of voters chose the third-party candidate even after it was reported that Perot, who loved conspiracies, claimed he saw five men with rifles on his front lawn and, later, that the Bush campaign tried to ruin his daughter's wedding. Had he not made such outlandish claims, his percentage of the electorate might have been much higher.

In terms of politics, technology, global changes, and life in general, 1992 seems like an alternate universe - a quaint, long-ago time before the internet, social media, America's cancel culture, and a seemingly endless coronavirus pandemic.

Since the beginning of American politics, most politicians and pundits have claimed that a third-party candidate never could become president. But that was before theAge of Trump.

In many ways, ever since Donald Trump rode down the escalator at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, to announce his bid for the White House, our nation's axis has been tipped on its side and much of what we thought we knew and could trust has slid even deeper into a vortex of accusations, hyper-partisanship, personal attacks, and declarations of outright hate.

Common sense would dictate that this new reality is a recipe for disaster for our nation - and yet, zealots on both sides continue to spit out poisonous venom. They seem to be digging in for the long haul.

More and more Republicans with whom I discuss politics appear to have decided that the best course of action for 2024 is to move on from Trump. That is not to say that they don't embrace most of his policies - many of them still do. It's just that they want to find another candidate with similar policies, someone who isn't such a bully, with such an outsized ego. Someone who isn't a lightning rod for hate.

As conservative pundit Ann Coulter, a former Trump supporter, told the New York Times: "Trump is done. You guys should stop obsessing over him."


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And in a tweet aimed directly at Trump, after he trolled Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about his COVID booster status, Coulter said: "EXCLUSIVE: Trump is demanding to know Ron DeSantis's booster status, and I can now reveal it. He was a loyal booster when Trump ran in 2016, but then he learned our president was a liar and con man whose grift was permanent. I hope that clears things up."

Now, even if many Republicans want to move on from Trump's influence, even if, like Coulter, they think he's "done," only one person has the power to stop Trump - that's Trump himself. Somewhere along the way, he has morphed into the Darius Kincaid character from the movie "The Hitman's Bodyguard" - meaning that, politically, he has become all but unkillable.

The media, the Democrats, Hollywood, the Never-Trumpers, and all of those rational Republicans can wish him gone, but it's a wasted wish. Trump knows he is still unkillable in one critically important way: No matter how many former supporters turn their backs on him, Trump still might be left with as many as 50 million voters from his 74.2 million tally in November 2020.

In a three-person race, with Trump as the third-party candidate, he easily could get on the ballot in all 50 states, and those 50 million or so votes would be a formidable number.

I have said before that I don't believe Trump ultimately will - or should - run in 2024, and that if he does we likely will see an uprising of civil disobedience from those who don't want to endure another Trump presidency. But, guess what? Trump couldn't care less what any of us thinks or says. He marches only to the beat of his mercurial ego.

Now, Trump did say in a February 2021 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he would not form a third party, but he had several escape clauses in that statement. If he chose to exercise one, his unpredictable ego could tell him that, if the "traditional" Republican Party base is moving on from him, he must "move on from the party" and run as a spoiler candidate in 2024.

In the run-up to the 1992 election, there was a fair amount of bad blood between Perot and George H.W. Bush. At some point in the campaign, Perot must have known he could not win the presidency, but he stayed in the race. A number of people in the Bush administration at the time believed he did so to punish Bush and scuttle any chance he had to win.

Today, as the New York Times reported, there appears to be growing animosity between Trump and DeSantis, a possible GOP candidate for the next presidential election - as there likely would be between Trump and anyone who runs on the Republican Party's ticket in 2024. Would Trump choose to run as a third-party candidate to punish the party's nominee? We can't say, but one thing is certain: Until Trump declares himself "done," he remains omnipresent on the political scene, haunting Democrats and Republicans alike.

In the end, Donald Trump will be the one who has the last word on the odds of another Trump presidency.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

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