Presidential Campaign

There’s still time for another third-party option

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Since the media’s dream of a brokered Republican presidential convention has turned to fizz, the possibilities of additional arias in the presidential opera are dwindling as the curtain begins to close on the spring season.

The Libertarian Party — in a contested presidential convention the media once projected for Republicans — took two ballots to select former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, their 2012 nominee, to head this year’s ticket. Two ballots were also required to choose former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld as the vice presidential nominee.

{mosads}Given the experience of the two former Republicans governors, and the chaotic, fluid, temperamental, volcanic state of the presidential drama this year, the Libertarians are poised for their best showing ever. Autumn acts will soothsay their possible macro impact.

Nominees have also been picked for the Constitution Party, whose members in April nominated Darrell Castle, an activist and attorney from Memphis, Tenn., as their presidential candidate. Scott Bradley, a university administrator from Utah, is his running mate.

Here is why those overtures matter.

The two parties, along with the Greens — who finalize their ticket in August — are the only third parties with credible ballot access for a candidate to have an impact. The Libertarians are likely to be on almost all 51 ballots, with the Green Party on more than two-thirds of the ballots. The Constitution Party currently is on 13 ballots.

That is significant because as Donald Trump, his recitative in full throttle, wraps up the delegates needed for the Republican nomination, the stop-Trump forces are running out of options.

For a time, the stop-Trump Republicans mused about hijacking the Libertarian Party or another third party that already had ballot access in most states, placing their own candidate in the slot. The Libertarians had other ideas. While agreeing with the GOP on many issues, they are and remain willing to welcome Republicans only on their own terms.

Likewise, it is unlikely the stop-Trump forces can commandeer the Green Party, seemingly on track to select physician Jill Stein of Massachusetts, their 2012 nominee, as its 2016 nominee. The only possible excitement in the Green Party is efforts by supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, currently running in the Democratic primary, to possibly snare that nomination. The last time the party gave its nomination to an outsider was 2000, to Ralph Nader; Democrats remember what happened then.

The Greens are open to Sanders’s supporters but, like the Libertarians, on their terms. In April, Stein wrote to an open letter to Sanders asking the independent socialist to consider switching from the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination race for a real “revolution for people, planet and peace” with her. He passed on that.

Thus one aria remains for the stop-Trump folks: find someone to run as an independent and start getting on the ballots.

To appear on ballots in all 50 states and the District of Columbia would require collecting about 570,000 signatures. According to Ballot News Access, the earliest deadline to get on the ballot as a third party has already passed: May 9, for Texas. A candidate could mount a legal challenge to that date because Texas does not require independents for other offices besides president to file until June.

Other than Texas, four states have deadlines in June, and the rest are in July, August and September.

One coloratura option: About 17 states have ballot-qualified third parties (beyond the bigger three) now on the ballot, just organized in that one state. Getting the new contender on some of those lines would be a good start.

So who should it be?

Well, since it was the Indiana primary that seemed to clinch the GOP nod for Trump, let’s go with former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar (R), once head of the Foreign Relations Committee, a brief GOP presidential hopeful in 1996 and now a regular at a nondescript, pleasant food-by-the-pound cafeteria south of Dupont Circle in Washington.

During his tenure as mayor of Indianapolis, Lugar served as the president of the National League of Cities in 1971 and gave the keynote address at the 1972 Republican National Convention.

In 2012, Lugar was defeated in a primary challenge by then-Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was supported by the Tea Party — the same element that helped sow the GOP’s current misery. Mourdock lost the general election to a Democrat, Joe Donnelly.

Lugar is someone the GOP and conservatives can get behind, as well as voters looking for a sensible, sane, accomplished individual. He is an accomplished lawmaker and an actual nice person.

Running mate options are spectacular. He could go with youth, like Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. He could go with moderate wildcards, like former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He could choose a bipartisan twist with former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn (D), his partner in nuclear threat reduction efforts.

Or Lugar could be bold and brilliant and choose a female. The GOP has great choices, from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Mia Love of Utah, to Pennsylvanians Diana Irey-Vaughan, a county commissioner, or former Rep. Melissa Hart, to former Nevada State Sen. Elizabeth Halseth.

Such a bel canto Lugar campaign has the potential to win enough states and their electoral votes to throw the contest into the House of Representatives. Then Congress gets its turn to pick the president, like the Supreme Court did in 2000.

This year, third parties are getting a rare look by the broader media — which means voters will also get a better look at the alternatives. They already have one huge breakthrough: Third-party candidates are being included in polling.

That shows that the pros realize what a vastly different election year we have. Polling precedes getting into the fall debate, where Lugar, Johnson and Stein would soar and find supporters.

This is the electoral cabaletta where it can actually work.

Squitieri is an award-winning reporter and communications veteran and an adjunct professor at American University and Washington and Jefferson College.

Tags Bernie Sanders Chuck Hagel Donald Trump Joe Donnelly Marsha Blackburn
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