Former CNN Television personality Lou Dobbs, confirmed yesterday that he is considering running for President in 2012. If he follows through on his intimation, it will be a boost for Obama’s re-election campaign. The recent resurgence of conservatism over the past year has encouraged many conservatives and conservative third parties to consider running in the next national election. Some, no doubt, for ego gratification and to enhance their resume in the conservative movement; some believe that a third-party conservative candidate actually has a chance of winning the White House in 2012.
Those who fancifully cling to this belief are ignoring both history and the Constitution. No third-party candidate has ever won the White House in our two hundred and twenty year history, although more than a hundred have tried. The Constitution is silent on the subject of political parties. In fact, most of the Founders were opposed on principle to political parties, which they called “factions”. The Constitution they crafted, however, seems to require the existence of two parties in order to prevent excesses by a single party from plunging the nation into tyranny.
While the Constitutional structure of government set up by the Founders makes the existence of two parties a practical necessity, it makes more than two parties impractical and counter-productive. The Twelfth Amendment, Ratified in 1803, requires that,
“The person having the greatest number of votes for President shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed;”
This is referring, of course, to the votes of the Electoral College and requires a majority of the votes cast and not a plurality. In a three way race it is possible that no one gets a majority of the votes. In that case, the House of Representatives determines which of the three will serve as President. What normally happens however is that the third party candidate splits the votes of the major party closest in ideology to the third party’s position on the issues resulting in a win for the opposition.
This frequently results in the candidate who does receive a majority of the electoral vote getting less than a majority of the popular vote, as happened in both the election of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Not only does that President not have a clear mandate to govern because he does not represent the majority will of the people, it often winds up in months of political wrangling, as in the election of 2000, with court cases going all the way to the Supreme Court.
Any way you look at it, third-party candidates in Presidential elections are always bad news. The biggest threat to America’s continuing as a free republic is the possibility that a strong third-party candidate will split the Republican vote in 2012 guaranteeing the re-election of Barack Obama. The real contest in 2012 is going to be in the Republican primary. In many states a voter registered as a third-party member cannot vote in the Republican primary even if their party is not running a candidate, leaving the field to the Republican Party regulars to select a candidate.