Learning from 1896: Why an anti-Trump third party will flop

The diverse nature of the anti-Trump third party plotters creates an added problem. The bolters of 2016 are an amalgam of neo-conservatives, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, quasi-nativists, moderates, and even some small-government libertarians and constitutionalists. Finding a candidate who can appease, much less energize, all of these factions may be difficult. By contrast, the NDP, despite its eventual failure, had a much easier task of uniting its members around two simple goals: preserving the gold standard and low tariffs.

While an anti-Trump third party, as currently conceived, will probably fail, and fail badly, a third party organized along different lines might just make a splash. The trick is to mount a campaign that can simultaneously appeal to the record numbers of disaffected Republicans and disaffected Democrats. The current plan of anti-Trump party proponents, such as Erik Erickson, to target political and social conservatives, including GOP foreign policy hawks, pretty much closes off the prospect of getting non-Republican votes. A better way to create a winning combination is to run a candidate who can reach those socially liberal voters in the Democratic Party who reject Hillary and her crony capitalism and hawkishness but aren’t necessarily comfortable with Sanders’ socialism. Right now, the only candidate who could conceivably pull this off is Libertarian Gary Johnson, a successful former two-term governor of New Mexico who will have ballot status in nearly all states.