Jim Webb dropped out of the Democratic presidential race early, but has recently been making noises about an independent run. Webb’s advisers say he will make a decision soon; as always, a key question is whether he has time to get on the ballot in enough states to make a credible race. Meanwhile, Webb has been attacking Hillary Clinton hard. On Facebook, as part of a lengthy condemnation of Clinton’s foreign policy credentials, he wrote:
Clinton should be called to account for her inept leadership that brought about the chaos in Libya.
Similarly, he tweeted:
Hillary Clinton’s failed vision in Libya & the Arab Spring are foreign policy leadership at its worst. https://t.co/NC80rbKLfP
— Jim Webb (@JimWebbUSA) December 26, 2015
What if Webb were to join the race as an independent? What would the likely effect be? Normally, one would think that if a Democrat jumps in as a third candidate, it will hurt the Democratic nominee. But I don’t think that is the case here, for two reasons.
First, Webb’s main focus is national security, where he is, relatively speaking, a hard-liner. National security has virtually no constituency in the Democratic Party–hence Webb’s invisible standing in the polls when he dropped out of the race. Any votes he siphons as a national security conservative will come from Republican voters.
Moreover, Webb’s secondary appeal is to voters who are disgusted with both parties. Those voters are mostly Republicans, too, which is largely what fuels the Trump and Carson phenomena. Democratic voters in general are happier with our political system and with their party than Republicans. So, once again, Webb’s appeal is likely to be primarily to Republican-leaning voters, especially if Trump is not the nominee.
I suppose if Bernie Sanders ran as an independent, it would hurt Hillary Clinton–although even that isn’t entirely clear. Any other plausible independent candidate would hurt the Republican nominee. A third-party candidate is, inherently, an anti-Washington, plague-on-both-their-houses candidate. In today’s world, those attitudes are much more widely held by Republicans than by Democratic voters.
All of which is to say that I fervently hope there will not be a third candidate in the race next year, unless Ralph Nader wants to make another run.