Conventional wisdom holds that the third-party presidential candidacy of Starbucks founder and former CEO Howard Schultz would be successful only in terms of its ability to return Donald Trump to the White House.
It may be best known for what will happen as opposed to what will not occur. Howard Schultz will not be sworn-in as the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2021.
But Schultz’s running an insurgent third-party candidacy in an age of tribalism and diminishing respect for democratic institutions would most likely ensure that Donald J. Trump will be re-elected. At least, this reflects the scenario that many Democrats fear.
Joy Behar, co-host of The View, recently echoed such concerns. Behar told Schultz on the popular daytime talk show, “The main thing that scares me is that your entry into the race will guarantee Trump another four years and we cannot have that.”
Behar assumes a Nostradamus-like clairvoyance by predicting the outcome along with the electorate’s response to Schultz. She achieves this without the benefit of Schultz possessing the ability to articulate a coherent vision. Behar supposes that a billionaire running for president with no prior experience will be the piece de resistance, especially for those who make the morning trek for a Venti Cinnamon Roll Frappuccino.
But the place where Behar’s political analysis falls short is perhaps the area where she, along with many others, believe their argument is the strongest — history.
Democrats and Republicans each enjoy retelling their version of the urban myth to justify losing recent elections they believe they would have otherwise won. And both scenarios involve a third-party candidacy.
Republicans revel in recalling the hackneyed yarn that Ross Perot cost George H.W. Bush his reelection in 1992. The linear thinking that supports this myth is based on Perot’s politics being closer aligned with Bush than with then-candidate Bill Clinton. Therefore, the 18.9 percent that Perot received added to Bush’s 37.4 percent would suggest a comfortable reelection for the 41st president. The problem, as John Adams noted, is that “facts are stubborn things.”
It only requires an eight-word Google search: Did Perot cost Bush the election in 1992? There one becomes privy to the facts. If anyone was hurt, it was Clinton, who enjoyed a sizeable bump in the Gallup polling when Perot exited the race in July 1992. When Perot re-entered the race in October, Clinton held a 54-35 lead over Bush. The final tally of Clinton 43 percent, Bush 37.4 percent and Perot 18.9 percent, took a toll on Clinton. During the entire election cycle, Bush only polled better than 40 percent once.
In 2000, the controversial presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore lent itself to the Democrats’ contribution to the fallacious urban myth of third-party candidates. With so much emphasis placed on Florida and its hanging chads, along with recounts, lawsuits and Supreme Court rulings, as well as Bush being declared the victor by 534 votes, it’s easy to conclude the lion’s share of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s 96,488 votes would have gone to Gore.
If Florida was the sole factor in Gore losing to Bush, I might be slightly more sympathetic to this argument. But like the Perot narrative, it myopically lacks nuance.
In an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity, it was amazing the election was so close. Gore was Clinton’s vice president, running ostensibly for a third Clinton term without the personal baggage. But Bush managed to win 11 states previously carried by Clinton in 1996, including Gore’s home state of Tennessee and Clinton’s Arkansas.
Moreover, the Gore campaign made a strategic decision not to use Clinton, who for a good portion of 2000 held an approval rating north of 60 percent. He was even more popular in Arkansas and New Hampshire. Either one of those states would have given Gore the victory without Florida.
But where these urban myths really fall miserably short is that they place more blame on third parties than on the shortcomings of candidates to achieve victory. They come as close as possible to suggesting third-party candidacies are unconstitutional in theory rather than admitting that failing candidates did not make the requisite case.
It is preferred to offer extenuating circumstances than to admit defeat. But in doing so, Democrats and Republicans recount the presidential campaigns of 1992 and 2000, respectively, adorning the accouterments of denial while burning effigies of Perot and Nader.
Before someone is newly inducted into the pantheon of third-party spoilers, let us consider another salient fact: A Trump victory will be the failure of Democrats to make a credible case that the president does not deserve another four years.