The New York Times has a story today about Republicans' schemes to deny Donald Trump their presidential nomination, or, failing that, to deny him the presidency. The group spearheaded by Erick Erickson is considering possible third-party candidates, one of whom is former Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn -- you know, the guy who once said, "I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life," and who in, a 2004 speech, recounted a conversation with a campaign aide who "was telling me lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom." He'd certainly have broad general appeal, right?
The other name floated by the Erickson group is Rick Perry.
At the meeting in Washington Thursday, Mr. Perry’s name was raised among several options, but his associates said that while he has fielded inquiries, he remains committed to backing Mr. Cruz.
Mr. Erickson described Mr. Perry as a “consensus choice” for an independent campaign: “He would win Texas and at least obstruct Trump.”
I don't understand the Rick Perry groupthink among Republican political professionals. Non-Republicans know Rick Perry is a joke. Republican primary voters know Rick Perry is a joke. It's only the GOP pros, and maybe some journalists, who can't grasp this glaringly obvious fact. He just seems like a winner on paper! Wasn't he a popular governor? Didn't he preside over economic growth? (Yeah, he lucked into skyrocketing oil prices when he was in office, but whatever.) Don't those glasses make him look awfully smart? Really, the pros think all this should make him a legitimate contender -- to this day, apparently.
But you see what Erickson & Co. are getting at here. They think Perry "would win Texas and at least obstruct Trump." He'd get Texas's 38 electoral votes and deny Trump (and Hillary Clinton, presumably) the 270 votes necessary to win the presidency outright. At that point, the race goes to the House of Representatives, with each state's congressional delegation getting one vote. According to the Twelfth Amendment, the House would choose from the top three electoral vote getters. So it's important that the third-party candidate win one state at least. Erickson thinks Perry would win Texas and House Republicans would then automatically make him president.
I don't get this. I know Trump didn't do very well in the Texas GOP primary, but he still got 26.7% of the vote (Ted Cruz got 43.8%). But even if Perry beat Trump in Texas, would Perry win? In the 2012 election, Barack Obama got 41.38% of the Texas vote. Isn't it conceivable that the results in 2016 could be Clinton 40%, Perry 35%, Trump 25%? Or Clinton 40%, Trump 30%, Perry 30%?
A couple of days ago, Josh Marshall got to the heart of the #NeverTrumpers' problem:
... almost all these embryonic efforts have proceeded on the belief that the independent candidate must be a "movement conservative." But this exposes a key problem with the whole concept....
... if you run a 'movement conservative' against Trump, it gets pretty hard to see where you can find any real points of contrast on any significant issues.
So, hardline on illegal immigration? No real difference.
Hardline on terrorism, needing to say "Islamic terrorism", creeping Sharia or any of the rest. No real difference.
Huge, huge tax cut? Same.
Obamacare terrible? Same.
Generalized opposition to 'political correctness'? Check.
Hating on Obama as feckless, exotic loser? Check.
... 'Movement conservatives' can field a candidate. But other than general arguments about civility and anti-authoritarianism or just bad taste, it's hard to know how they would be able to distinguish themselves from Trump on any significant issues.
I don't understand why these guys aren't pondering a third-party run by John Kasich, who's bamboozled a lot of people into thinking he's practically a Democrat, even though he's extremely conservative on many issues. Part of me wants to see a poll of Trump-Kasich-Clinton, just to confirm my suspicion that Kasich would win a lot of votes from both parties. But another part of me hopes this hypothetical race is never polled, because I don't want the blind-squirrel Republicans to get any help in finding this particular nut.
Kasich, at least, would have an excellent shot at winning one state, Ohio -- maybe a better shot than Perry would have at winning Texas, because Kasich has some support from Democrats and independents in his state. Or, if you want someone almost certain to win one state, why not Mitt? I'm quite sure Romney would win Utah -- Trump is being crushed in the Utah primary. (Mormon journalist McKay Coppins explains why here; the short version is that Mormon overseas missions curtail xenophobia, and the church's history of persecution makes Mormons sensitive to Islamophobia.) A Deseret News poll says Clinton or Sanders would beat Trump in Utah, a state where even non-Mormon Republicans routinely win blowouts. (John McCain won the state in 2008 by 28 points.)
I think a movement-conservative third-party candidate could give Clinton a shot in states that are now way out of reach -- Georgia, Missouri, Alaska, maybe even Mississippi (where Obama won nearly 44% of the vote in 2012). She'd have a much better shot at 270 electoral votes, if not 300 or 350 or 400. So please proceed, Erick.