As the days go by, it seems less and less likely a conservative third party candidate will enter the presidential race. But those still contemplating a run should keep one thing in mind before opting out: The possibility that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump – or both – could implode before Election Day.
On Sunday night, we learned that conservative writer David French would not mount a third party challenge. French is a truly decent man and a protest run would have been a noble act, but he was right to conclude that conservatism would be better served if a more prominent figure than himself entered the race.
The best man for the job is clearly Mitt Romney. He has the name recognition and the organizational know how to make a third party challenge more than a Potemkin effort. As I previously argued, win or lose, a third party run would be his greatest legacy.
But perhaps the point that has been most downplayed during discussions of a potential third party challenge is the possibility of success given the race’s current dynamics. No one denies that a third party run would be an uphill battle and under normal circumstances it would probably be a political suicide mission. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and not just because the Democrat and Republican nominees are historically unpopular.
The reason a third party contender would have an unusual chance of succeeding this cycle is because there is a not an insignificant possibility that either Trump or Clinton’s candidacies will spontaneously combust before November. If you doubt that, just take a look at what has transpired over the last couple of weeks.
At the end of May, the State Department issued a report slamming Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state. That alone won’t destroy Clinton’s candidacy, but what if she is actually indicted after she accepts the Democratic nomination in July? In an instant, the entire race would change.
As for Trump, he has spent the better part of the past week doubling down on a racist attack against an American-born judge of Mexican descent who is presiding over a fraud case against his Trump University. Trump’s comments were so despicable that even Newt Gingrich was compelled to condemn them – and anyone who has been following Newt Gingrich over the last few months knows he has not been in the business of attacking a man he has essentially been begging on TV to name him the vice presidential nominee.
Will Trump’s racist broadside do lasting damage? Maybe, maybe not. As Trump has pointed out, he could commit mass murder at 5th Avenue and his supporters would still stand by him.
But while Trump has weathered political storms that would have destroyed most candidates, there is no guarantee this supernatural ability will last forever. Now that he has locked up the Republican nomination, the press seems to be getting tougher with him. Both John Dickerson of CBS and Jake Tapper of CNN subjected Trump to withering interviews on Sunday, and one has to imagine the press treatment of Trump will only become increasingly more skeptical.
But what really seems to worry Trump is the possibility of deep dive investigative pieces on his personal life and business record. In an interview with conspiracist radio host Alex Jones, longtime Trump political confidante Roger Stone suggested that the Washington Post is about to publish a series of negative stories about The Donald, including ones about alleged Trump sex scandals. Stone seemed to be trying to preempt the reports and spin them as unfounded “hit pieces.” Trump, too, has railed against the Washington Post and its owner Jeff Bezos, perhaps out of fear that the paper’s announced effort to devote more than 20 reporters to picking through his record and personal life would turn up something devastating.
To date, most of the print reporting on Trump has basically been rehashed stories of investigative pieces that were published decades ago. It would hardly be surprising that a paper willing to devote the resources would uncover new and truly damning stories about Trump that would test the “5th Avenue Massacre” theory.
The point is Hillary and Trump are not ordinary presidential candidates. It’s not unimaginable their candidacies could incinerate in a fiery inferno of scandal before we get to November, which would immediately make any third party challenger who was courageous enough to enter the race now a stones throw away from the presidency.
Romney – and any other potential third party candidate who may still be weighing a run – should keep this in mind before turning down history’s entreaties.