Two weeks ago, I argued that conservatives should not run a third party candidate if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination. I wrote:
If Trump loses in a race involving an independent Republican, those who backed him will be able to shift the blame for the defeat to those who backed a third candidate. The “stab in the back” will challenge (and perhaps replace) the “foolish (to put it mildly) joy ride” as the prevailing narrative of the 2016 adventure.
Now, Erick Erickson, an important figure in the “Never Trump” movement, makes the same point. He writes:
If a third party rises up to take on Trump, [his backers in the media and among politicians] will be able to point out that this third party is to blame for Trump’s loss, not that Trump was always going to lose.
A lot of people need to be held accountable for the fraud being committed on angry, hurting voters. They’ve taken advantage of these voters’ anger and sympathies. A third party allows them to escape accountability and remain unscathed by the con-job they are helping pull over on the American people.
Frankly, a lot of careers should justifiably end when Trump loses to Hillary, but a third party effort against Trump will give them one more opportunity to lie, obfuscate, and escape accountability.
I’m less concerned about careers ending than I am about Republicans learning the right lesson from a Clinton victory over Trump. As I explained, citing numerous examples for our history, “losing stinks, which is why political parties normally react decisively to the experience” by turning in the next election to someone very different from the defeated candidate. If, however, it can plausibly be argued that a third party candidate brought on the defeat, the loser and his boosters may well avoid such a reaction.
But whether one puts this in Erickson’s terms or mine, the upshot is the same: a third party candidacy is a bad idea.
Ramesh Ponnuru observes, however, that “even if Trump loses a two-person race in November, many of his boosters would blame it on anyone besides themselves and their candidate.” Along, presumably, with Trump, they will point to Republican politicians who refused to endorse Trump, conservative pundits who attacked him throughout the campaign, and so forth.
Ponnuru is right. But these grievances pale in comparison to something as unusual and obviously impactful as a third party candidacy arising from the heart of a political party’s base. (In my lifetime, significant third party candidacies have come from a party’s fringe — George Wallace — or from the space that lies between the two parties — Ross Perot — not from the core of a party).
Losers always look for excuses. But folks tend not to listen to them because the world doesn’t like losers.
Only a strong excuse by the losing faction is likely to gain traction. A third party candidacy would be a strong excuse.