- Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 August 2011 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 31 August 2011 00:00
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Campaign 2012, so far at least, is proceeding according to script. The President, as expected, is running for reelection and the GOP has begun the long and difficult process of selecting a nominee.
However, this year, the politics are far more unsettled. The voters are restless. They don’t like their choices, and most distressing, many having watched the endless gridlock in Washington, have started to lose faith in the nation’s public institutions. The
situation is far more serious and far more volatile than many political watchers realize.
President Obama, while generally liked by many Americans, is suffering from a leadership gap. Americans watched the recent deficit impasse, a partisan debacle which put the whole economy at risk, and asked aloud, “where is the President?” For weeks he was absent from the fray and when he did get involved he wasn’t able to have much impact on the outcome. Unlike President Clinton, who in the 1990’s used his deft political skills to gain the edge in dealing with a Republican House and Senate, Obama has been left looking like the odd man out. His popularity since the deficit vote has been on a steady downward slide.
And then there is the economy. This is the most dominant issue of all. No President in the last 60 years, with one exception, has been reelected when unemployment has been higher than 7%. Even the most optimistic forecasters say that by 2012 the U.S. unemployment rate will still be above 8%. This doesn’t bode well for the President’s chances.
This would seem like an ideal opening for the Republicans. But, their field at best is anemic, and at worst, a little on the wacky side. Mitt Romney, the supposed leader of the pack has managed in his relatively short political career to be on both sides of almost every major issue. While the newest entrant, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, has put on an off the cuff political side show that’s left many wondering if he hasn’t spent too much time in the Texas sun. He may be popular in Texas, but he isn’t ready for prime time anywhere else.
For the first time in a long while this may represent the long awaited opening for a third party candidate. Americans really are fed up with politics as usual and the prospect of a third party candidacy, often dismissed, could, in these unsettled times, rapidly catch on. However, being a third party candidate in America has never been easy. So far they have all lost. Teddy Roosevelt, Robert La Follette, George Wallace, John Anderson, Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader all ran as independents. They all lost. But that’s not to say their candidacies didn’t matter. They all changed the terms of the debate, and in several instances, changed the outcome of the election.
While it’s possible that 2012 could turn out to be the ideal opening for a third party candidate there are still a lot of roadblocks to being a third candidate in a two-party system. Getting on the ballot in all 50 states is an almost overwhelming task. The Democrats and Republicans have seen to that. So is forming an organization. But, that’s not to say it’s impossible. It can be done.
The question is where is a third party candidate likely to come from? One name that’s been mentioned is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Unlike any of the GOP prospects and the President, he has a strong business background, welcomed in a time of economic uncertainty and being Mayor of New York knows how to balance budgets, fight crime, and even how to deal with terrorism. He is also a billionaire which helps a lot in funding a national campaign.
Other prospects, particularly if the GOP were to nominate Mitt Romney, could come from the right. The Tea Party and many of the GOP’s social conservatives don’t trust Romney and are apt to bolt if he is the nominee. Who knows, maybe Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul, two candidates who would choke on a Romney candidacy, might go independent. However, unlike Bloomberg, a conservative third party candidate, whoever it might be, isn’t likely to have the money or the organization to have a serious shot at the White House. But they could split the GOP vote.
The future of any third party candidacy depends on just how bleak the Presidential field looks during the next few months. If Obama can’t rebound, and if the GOP continues down its current self destructive path, then an opening for that long-awaited independent candidate might finally be a reality.