There’s a scene in Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist that may apply to the selection of the next American president. While on a tour of Independence Hall, the protagonist, Macon Leary, attempts to make the tour a little more engaging for his 15-year-old niece.
“If it weren’t for what was decided in this building,” Macon told her, “you and I
might very well be living under a dictatorship.”
“We are anyhow,” she said.
“You really think that you and me have any power?”
“You and I, honey.”
“It’s just free speech, that’s all we’ve got. We can say whatever we like, then the
government goes on and does exactly what it pleases. You call that democracy?”
This is the perfect year for an independent candidate to be elected president. I’ve written a longer, more detailed version of this post that I hope to get published, but I also wanted to outline the idea here.
The twelfth amendment to the constitution is the reason the country has had a two party system for the vast majority of its existence. Passed by congress in 1803 following the contested election of 1800 (Jefferson vs. Adams), the amendment was ratified in time for the presidential election of 1804. The amendment is available from the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html.
The twelfth amendment outlines the process for electing the president and vice president if none of the candidates receives a majority of the total electoral votes in a general election. For 2016, the magic number is 270. The House of Representatives will elect the president and the Senate will elect the vice president if no candidate receives that number of electoral votes from the general election on November 8.
The House has only been called on once to exercise its powers under the twelfth amendment. In 1824-25, the House chose between Andrew Jackson (99 electoral & 153,544 popular votes), John Quincy Adams (84 electoral and 108,740 popular votes) and William Crawford (41 electoral votes). The fourth-place finisher, Henry Clay, used his influence to persuade the House to elect Adams to the presidency.
The procedure outlined in the twelfth amendment provides a definite advantage to a conservative candidate in 2016. The House elects the President with a majority vote, BUT each state’s congressional delegation receives a single vote and the District of Columbia is excluded from the selection process. This means that highly populated states like California, Texas, Florida and New York have the same voting power as lightly populated states such as Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska and North Dakota.
States with low population densities are typically conservative strongholds. Sixty-eight percent (17/25) of the states with the lowest population density voted for Romney in 2012, while only 28% (7/25) of the most densely populated states voted for the republican candidate. Recall that Obama won the election by a comfortable margin. He had 8% more popular votes and 61% more electoral votes than Romney In 2012.
Since the twelfth amendment gives a single vote to each state’s delegation if the House of Representatives is to decide on the presidency, a conservative candidate would have a distinct advantage. There is another situation with nine of these states which heightens the effect. Eight states in which the 2012 popular vote went to Obama have congressional delegations which are majority republican, and New Jersey has an evenly split delegation. This means that a conservative candidate may pick up additional votes from states in which the electorate chose the democratic candidate, presumably Hilary Clinton. There is nothing in the twelfth amendment which instructs a state’s delegation to vote in a manner consistent with the popular vote.
I’ve been using the terms “conservative” and “democratic” for a reason, but I have yet to talk about the republican candidate. There’s a good reason for that – Donald Trump. Mr. Trump is the reason I believe an independent, conservative third candidate will be the next president.
Trump is very likely to be the republican nominee. He is a candidate with strong support among many voters – including some who would typically vote democratic – but he also has some important negatives.
1. Many conservatives do not trust that he is as committed to conservative social issues as he claims to be;
2. A substantial percentage of women say they will not vote for Trump because they believe he is sexist and would not support policies designed to treat women in a manner equal to men; and
3. The political establishment do not feel he has a presidential disposition, and would very much prefer a more traditional candidate.
So how will this play out? A conservative, independent candidate would join the race within the next couple months and target specific states so as to keep either Clinton or Trump from winning 270 electoral votes. The message is simple: vote for me because there is an empty seat on the Supreme Court and I can end abortion and secure Christian values forever. There would also be messages about solidifying second amendment rights, supporting farmers, repealing ObamaCare and cutting business regulations, but it’s the “family values” message that is the most important. Keep in mind that the candidate would not have to win all of these states, just a few to keep the democratic and republican candidates from reaching 270.
The targeted states are:
11. North Dakota
13. South Carolina
14. South Dakota
17. West Virginia
The candidate would also have to swing a few important states from Clinton to either Trump or him/herself to prevent Clinton from achieving 270 electoral votes:
2. North Carolina
Political pundits believe these five states are leaning toward Clinton, but there are a lot of disgruntled ex-factory workers in all of them, and that is a demographic that likes Trump. The independent candidate’s message of stacking the Supreme Court for conservative values will not necessarily play well to many voters in these five states, but the candidate only has to prevent them from going to Clinton. He/She can help steer these states toward Trump with some negative advertising paid for by a Super PAC, not that there’s supposed coordination between the campaign and the Super PAC, of course.
There are a substantial number of voters who believe Hilary Clinton is not trustworthy. Congress has the power to highlight this negative opinion by conducting investigations over Benghazi and the Clintons’ email server during the campaign. It could backfire. The perception could be that Congress is attacking the only woman in the contest and her support may increase.
If the as-yet unnamed conservative candidate is able to win just a handful of the eighteen states listed above, and Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia go to Trump, this dark horse candidate could become president, perhaps with less than 10% of the popular vote. That would be quite a coup, but also absolutely constitutional.
So who’s the ideal candidate? I don’t think Ted Cruz has a good chance of success; he is just too unlikeable. Sarah Palin is a bit too extreme, even for the House of Representatives, so I think she is out as well. It probably should not be one of the republican presidential candidates who signed the loyalty oath because he/she could be rightly accused of breaking the oath by running as a third-party candidate.
The ideal candidate is Paul Ryan. He is well liked by the political establishment and many voters. As the current Speaker of the House and as Romney’s running mate four years ago, he has had plenty of exposure. The voters know him. I believe that he would be elected by the House of Representatives as the next president if he were to run as an independent conservative candidate. He’s also most likely to force the election by the House because he can steal Wisconsin and a few other states from Hilary Clinton if he runs. Because of his public image, his message would not have to be so family values-oriented to win the conservative states, and that makes him more attractive in Michigan, Florida and Ohio, for example.
Of course, Paul Ryan doesn’t want to run for president and has stated that emphatically. It took a great deal of persuasion to convince him to accept the position of Speaker of the highly dysfunctional House of Representatives. I’m not sure he’s ready to deal with the House as the President.
A cold chill just ran up my spine. This situation seems a little like Frank Underwood’s rise to the presidency on Netflix’s House of Cards. Underwood schemes and puts others under his control with political blackmail to achieve his aspirations. He’s even capable of committing crimes, including murder, to silence those who would derail his plans.
But Paul Ryan is no Frank Underwood. Aside from his P-90X obsession (I’m channeling some jealousy here), and the misguided believe that tax cuts for the wealthy stimulate the economy and cuts in federal payments to the poor do not harm it, he seems a decent enough guy. But then again, so would Frank Underwood to most of the country. It is only we viewers who know Frank’s actual thoughts. He turns to the camera several times during every episode to tell us what he’s thinking. It’s chilling.