In the Kardashian-like saga that has become Donald Trump’s campaign for the Presidency, the latest news is that he is threatening to run as a third party candidate if the RNC is “unfair” to him during the primaries.
“Unfair”. Trump’s words not mine. Sounds a wee little bit like a tantrum to me. Anyone who’s ever been anywhere near little kids playing has at least heard an argument that starts with “it’s mine, mine, mine!” and that concludes with the word “unfair” being muttered after an adult steps in and settles things.
To be fair, Trump has experience running as a third party candidate. He did so in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket. And,as a threat tactic it’s somewhat viable. Look at what Ross Perot did in 1992 — split the electorate thus paving the way for Bill Clinton to win the Presidency. (It’s worth remembering that Clinton had ventured into the race back in 1988 but quit early due to scandal. Had Ross Perot not been a factor in 1992, it’s possible Clinton wouldn’t have won).
Trump is welcome to run as whatever he chooses. Republican (he says he’s one now). Democrat (he said in 2004 he was one). Independent. Libertarian. Green. Whatever. There’s one big problem though with third party candidates.
An old set of campaign laws grant both the Democrat and Republican parties ballot access. Want to run for office? Stick a D or an R after your name and presto, you will appear on the ballot. But to do so as a third party, your party must go through a petition process just to be able to put any candidate on any ballot. Want to run for mayor in your hometown as a Turnip-and-Cabbages-are-Great candidate? Your party better have circulated petitions, obtained the requisite number of signatures, been vetted through electoral officials where you’re running for office, and once all that’s done, then and only then can you appear on the ballot and campaign for people to vote for you. It’s a lengthy, complicated, and expensive process that often results in many third party candidates being broke and done before they ever hold their first official campaign event.
This is why there aren’t any real viable third parties in the United States. At the state level there are exceptions. New York state for example is a true four party system — Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives,and Liberals. Minnesota too has the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party which has been around since the 1920s. On the national level the Libertarians and Greens are probably the most well known third parties, but to date both have had a negligible impact on national level elections.
That said, Trump has a lot of money which could produce the apparatus necessary to put his name on ballots across the country. Provided voters will sign petitions requesting as much. Ross Perot was pretty successful at doing this in 1992. Would Trump be? This would be the first true test of his grass roots appeal.
So why should Trump wait? He should start now and pursue ballot access. The election is 15 months away after all and he needs as much a head start with his petition drive as he can muster.