Andrew Tanner

Jan 5

12 min read

How A Third Party Stops Trump

Absent a major trajectory change in American politics, Donald Trump is set to return to the White House in January 2025.

If this happens, the last vestiges of America’s already strained unity will dissolve. In truth, even if it doesn’t the country might well be plunged into total collapse given that Americans no longer agree on basic facts.

The only hope for salvaging what is left of America’s democracy now is a dramatic reshuffling of the major political parties.

How does that happen? Same way it always has in America— a third party movement emerges that splits one of the two old parties apart, triggering a re-balancing of political coalitions.

It is vital Americans ignore all the partisans who insist there will always be only two options in America — a broad third party movement is now the only viable hope for stabilizing the country in the short term. Very possibly the only thing that stops what feels an awful lot like a slide to civil war, however unlikely that may seem.

The reason it’s the conventional wisdom in elite circles that a third party is the future and always will be is that their power relies on maintaining the two party doom loop to its bitter end.

Now, this isn’t to say there aren’t massive headwinds facing a successful third party Presidential bid. It’s far from an ideal option.

But given how 2024 is already shaping up this is the best shot America has of avoiding an epic catastrophe and possibly a chaotic, violent breakup. While most Americans don’t want the country to split into warring Red and Blue regions, around forty percent would be alright if it split into state clusters.

The secret of America is that is isn’t a real nation or society. There is little that links Americans together but a federal government most distrust or dislike.

But there remains the possibility of hope that some coherent political force will rise capable of taking advantage of the vulnerabilities in the system to try and repair it. Maybe give America a chance to be what it ought to be for the people who live here.

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will ever be willing to effect real change. Only third party movements are capable of imagining something different, but these face the enormously difficult task of coming up with both a message that can appeal to enough people and the physical staying power needed to convince people it’s worth their vote.

Most third parties wind up becoming so narrowly focused on a single issue that they never go anywhere. If successful to any degree the big parties siphon off their support by adopting the special issue, just like Republicans by and large have adopted Trump’s myth of large scale electoral fraud.

Only when a candidate is able to ride a wave of public dissatisfaction with the function of the federal government itself do they pose a threat to the entrenched system. Ross Perot did this in 1992, as did Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, though neither won.

Neither, however, had access to social media. Nor was American democracy in such a fragile state.

Look, nobody wants to hear this, but the truth is that little short of death by Iranian drone will stop Trump from winning the Republican Party nomination in 2024.

Sure, he’ll face a concerted primary challenge and all the usual voices will pronounce his demise a hundred times between now and then, but Cheney and Pence and probably Cruz will split the GOP primary vote from the Iowa caucus onward and Trump’s rabid base will give him the edge. It’s already taking shape, right now, just as Harris and Buttigieg backers are maneuvering ahead of Biden’s declaration he isn’t running sometime in 2023.

Biden simply isn’t running again, no matter what he pretends — a Biden-Trump rematch would be an absolute disaster for America.

Even Obama lost voters and the electoral votes of several states between 2008 and his reelection in 2012. Turnout dropped three percentage points, Mitt Romney turned out a million more voters overall than John McCain had, North Carolina and Indiana flipped Red and haven’t gone Blue since.

Americans tend to push back against the party in power. In a Biden-Trump rematch overall turnout will go down, and Biden will lose more voters on average than Trump, because Biden voters aren’t voting against Trump anymore no matter how Team Biden might try to spin it.

2020 was not a landslide — a few tens of thousands of votes, less than 1% of the electorate, gave Biden his victory margin in the three closest states, Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin.

If America can’t move on from these two old white men by 2024, the election is doomed to be razor close in the Electoral College once again. And with his party almost fully backing his lies, Trump will also be able to rely on state legislature or goon shenanigans even if Biden were to pull off a miracle and eke out another win in his early 80s, well past his generations average life expectancy.

Harris is positioned to succeed him if he doesn’t run but will face a primary challenge from Buttigieg, the dream candidate for white people who think The West Wing is real life, as well as a progressive, possibly Warren, more likely Booker or maybe even AoC. The likely outcome of that scramble will be Harris winning after a difficult primary thanks to Biden’s tacit backing.

But none of these configurations are promising. Under Biden, the Democrats have managed to tar themselves as incompetent among too many voters. The party’s endless Trump obsession will become a self-fulfilling prophecy while a whole lot of voters tune out and ignore the news — unless they have another option.

Which there probably will be. Truth be told, several third party bids are likely in 2024. In America’s new social media driven political ecosystem being notorious can be lucrative, so anyone who even thinks they might get some money out of dabbling in politics has an incentive to take a shot. In 2020 the Democrats could bash any third party bid by saying it would re-elect Trump, but in 2024 that is unlikely to work a second time.

Not after 2020 was far from the repudiation of Trump the Democrats promised it would be, but a re-invigoration of America’s race to self-immolation.

The best way to take advantage of the hunger for a new kind of politics is to build up an anti-establishment but pro-democracy party. One that focuses on the kinds of basic material concerns that drive most people but that partisan politicians don’t want to do anything about for fear of upsetting their wealthy masters. A party that embraces diversity and freedom in equal measures.

In 2020 the Democrats were out of power with Trump making the case for his swift removal every day. In 2024 they’ll be the ones holding the White House and so in most people’s minds ultimately responsible for all the miseries the ripple effects of the pandemic will inflict on Americans over the next few years.

Blaming the Republicans won’t be enough to save Biden — his team’s chronic attempts to spin everything in a way that absolves him of responsibility is incredibly corrosive. And the Democrats, ever more the party of the college educated that believes winning arguments is what safeguards democracy, will be dragged down with him.

How can a third party bid prevent the disaster that will follow from either Trump’s return to the White House or a contested election and Constitutional Crisis?

By becoming an opposition party in every non-swing state, Red and Blue alike, and forcing a Contingent Election in 2024.

A dirty little secret of the two-party system’s anti-democratic features is that most states are now solidly Red or Blue despite the parties’ mutual inability to win the support of a majority of registered voters. Democrats or Republicans hold all three branches of most state governments.

But Red and Blue states are defined as such more by their population’s dislike of the other option winning control at the federal level than any other factor. Watch Fox News and you’ll see a steady stream of coded fear-mongering about people of color in big cities taking away all their freedoms. MSNBC goes the other way, warning progressive hipsters about the dangers of those violent sexually repressed rural hicks and their big scary guns.

In reality, most Americans agree the federal government sucks. White liberals talk a big game about loving public education, healthcare, and fighting racism, but they keep their kids in private schools, work jobs with cushy healthcare and retirement plans, and think reading a lot of books makes them crusaders for racial justice.

On the other side of the aisle, half of the stuff conservatives complain about government doing the ones they elect at a state or local level do all the time. You can’t go crying about your precious freedoms then pass laws telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies and not get called out as hypocrites, Texas.

American politics is all posturing driven by the fact the two party system has emerged with America’s class system to create a dystopia where the elites run around pretending to be moral leaders while selling out the public to the first lobbyist they see.

Those who are enriched by a system tend to fight to preserve it. Mainline American media pundits frame America’s problems as a two-party problem where insufficient bipartisanship is the problem, ignoring all the evidence that the broader system militates against moderation and compromise. The only points of true bipartisan agreement are:

A. The military must get all funds it wants without oversight

B. China is bad.

Americans on the ground level by and large simple feel stuck, battered by forces beyond their control, and more and more afraid for the future. Scared people want the source of their fear resolved beyond anything else.

They also tend to disregard messengers they have any reason to mistrust. With the Democrats little more trusted by the average American than Republicans, only a third party conveying a simple coherent message with a plan for forcing the system to change stands any chance of gaining enough traction to make a difference.

And for any coherent third party effort to work, it has to accomplish a single critical objective: break the Electoral College.

In 2024, a third party candidate must win enough votes in enough states that no Presidential ticket reaches the 270 electoral vote threshold required to win outright.

This will trigger the Contingent Election process under the Constitution that completely eliminates the role of state legislatures that are likely to be under the control of Trump acolytes. His best path to stealing an election will be blocked.

Eliminating this chance is of paramount importance if you want to save American democracy. The only way to do it is to make sure the Electoral College fails completely, hopefully clearing the path to doing away with it once and for all.

The Contingent Election process gives each state one vote in the House. Each House delegation votes as a group, the majority deciding the state’s vote for President.

America hasn’t had one of these in a long time only because the two party system has been mostly stable. At several points in history, however, no one won the Electoral College and the President ultimately wound up being selected by the House.

Many will note that the Republican advantage in the Electoral College is even more magnified in the House. Republicans control a majority of House delegations now and are likely to still hold them after the 2024 elections.

So why would a Contingent Election not favor Trump?

Because the strength of Trump’s support varies dramatically in different parts of the country. Across much of the rural west, in states with a small number of electoral college votes, and therefore with small House delegations, support for Trump has always been softer than in the South and Midwest.

The reason for this is entrenched anti-federal feelings that lead a lot of people to vote for Republicans mostly because they see hear what people on MSNBC say and so think all Democrats hate rural people. A lot of them, if you dive into the available numbers, never much liked Trump and express support for an alternative — just not a Democrat.

Yes, a plurality of residents of western rural Red states are Trump supporters — but the Independents plus Democrats outnumber them. Why can’t Democrats flip states like Montana? Because most of their supporters are from deep Blue states and so demand rhetoric and policy that suits their preferences, which because of basic geography varies a lot from those of people working in the Rocky Mountain West.

The basic anti-democratic nature of the way America elects Presidents means that thanks to the Electoral College, in states like Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Alaska voting in Presidential elections is as pointless for most people as it is in California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawai’i. The state is so clearly Red or Blue at the federal level that their votes are basically wasted thanks to the Electoral College.

Basically, both parties keep voters in a perpetual trap. Not accomplishing anything is actually the point of modern American politics, because money keeps flowing into the system despite its poor performance.

A third party capable of bringing together Democratic and Independent voters in a few deep Red states and Independent and a few Republican voters in deep Blue states could hack and disrupt this predatory system. Given how close the last few elections have been in the electoral college, a third party bid capable of taking a select few states could force a Contingent Election.

The baseline scenario for a Trump reelection looks like this. 2024 is as similar to 2020 as the latter was to 2016 — that is, the thing is close in the places you’d mostly expect.

Only this time the Republicans aren’t constrained by consent decrees or the Supreme Court. They can use every dirty trick in the book to reduce turnout at the margins in states where they control the electoral machinery.

And when all the votes are counted, the electoral college gives Trump 272 electoral college votes despite losing the popular vote by 6 million. Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin slip back to his column.

Trump’s simplest path to victory in 2024

Note that if this were the 2020 map, the outcome would have been a tie — you can thank the census results for giving the GOP 3 more electoral college votes in Florida and Texas. A worst-case scenario is also possible, looking like this:

Trump’s 2024 dream, assuming Latino support for the Democrats declines in the Sun Belt and old white people in the Rust Belt continue to trend conservative

But a third party, if it were run well, stands a chance of blocking either of these maps, depending on how badly the Democrats perform. In the event of a razor-close election where a third party operated only in a few smaller Red states out west, the following can be achieved:

Blocking Trump with a small third party

In Montana, one of the state’s two senators, John Tester, is a Democrat. Murkowski in Alaska is a Trump foe. Mitt Romney of Utah is too.

Rather than fighting to win the GOP primary, if people like Romney, Murkowski, and Liz Cheney launched a third party bid they might actually block Trump. Even wind up becoming President after a Contingent Election.

A third party bid is an important backup for another reason. If the Democrats run a candidate whose campaign collapses, a third option could be the only hope of stopping Trump from running away with an election:

Third Party dream map for 2024

Ideally, a third party movement could take some seats in the House in these states. A demonstration of presence like that would open the path to enough Republicans being willing to stop a second Trump term to end the threat he poses forever.

Unlike members of the electoral college, House members are elected by the voters. They would have to be accountable for whatever Trump did if they installed him. And targeting smaller states with a third party movement would have an outsized impact.

After all — in a state like Wyoming, with only one House representative, possibly Trump foe Liz Cheney, that person would be assured of paying the consequences or reaping the rewards for their choice. There would be no one to hide behind after a public vote in Congress.

Having a new party to jump to would give many of them the confidence they would need to stand up to Trump. Far as I’m concerned, that beats the hell out of the alternative — hoping the Democrats finally change, stand up, and learn to fight.

But the lesson of 2021 was that we’re on our own. A third party is Americans’ best chance of taking what’s left of their democracy back.