Trumpers Know 3rd Party Spoilers Are Trump’s Only Shot

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
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I’ve been writing recently about the corrupt monstrosity that is the “No Labels” third party effort and the way the insider sheets in D.C. persist in labeling this an action on behalf of centrists. It is in fact a lifestyle front group run by the husband and wife team of Mark Penn and Nancy Jacobson, some of the most retrograde players from the dark side of American politics. The effort is funded by a who’s who of right-wing Republicans. But I want to step back from this story to note a feature of the 2024 presidential election that is already coming into view.

The 2016 and 2020 presidential elections were both quite close. Numerous factors distinguish one from the other and set the stage for the very different results. But one of the biggest factors was the role of third party candidates, which made it possible for Trump to slip in by pulling both major party candidates down below 50%.

Donald Trump’s vote percentage was very similar in both elections. Joe Biden’s percentage was significantly higher than Hillary Clinton’s. There are numerous factors that explain the different results. It is likely impossible to figure out which was the most important and how much difference each accounted for. Certainly we won’t settle that question here. But it was a key difference.

Step back and you’ll see that a key driver of the result in 2024 will be how much Donald Trump and the right generally will be able to replicate that crowded field. No Labels is part of that. It is literally funded by the top Republican donors in the country and run by a couple of reprobates half motivated by pique over being expelled from the Democratic Party and half by the intrinsic corruption they displayed while they were part of it.

Then there’s the primary campaign of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. It’s amazing how open this one is. His top backers are Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Roger Stone. He’s a creation of the world of MAGA. I hadn’t given the guy a great deal of thought since he played the Pied Piper of supposed number crunching showing John Kerry had actually won the 2004 presidential election. At the time it was a kind of wishful thinking wrongheadedness that was clearly wrong but seemed like a one-off thing. It portended more to come.

I knew he was a big anti-vax guy. But seeing some of his recent stuff, I didn’t grasp how far off the trail he’s gone. He’s basically on board with all the conspiracy theories that animate MAGA. Vaccine denial is only one of them. For the moment he’s putting up decent primary support numbers, overwhelmingly because of the name.

Now he’s running in the Democratic primary. There’s every reason to believe he or someone like him will also run in the general.

The point for the moment is not to convince you that these are bad actors or don’t deserve your vote. You know that. The point is that we can now see with some clarity a key outline of the 2024 election. Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee. As I’ve argued for months, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. There’s every reason to think that Biden will defeat Trump in the general election in another not-that-close but still nail-biting result.

It now looks increasingly likely that the U.S. economy will be in at least decent shape in 18 months. Donald Trump will be weighed down by a slew of indictments and the general public rejection signified in 2022. But even if all that were not happening we should remember that he’s run in two general elections and his share of the popular vote has been remarkably consistent — 46.1% in 2016 and 46.8% in 2020. For the reasons I noted earlier it’s likely to be lower.

I’m not saying a Biden victory is guaranteed by any means. I simply mean it’s the most likely outcome. How does that picture get changed? By getting one or two third party candidates into the race who can, as they did in 2016, siphon off 4% or 5% of the vote and bring Joe Biden down into a range where Trump can slip back into the White House via the Electoral College.

I tend to think that won’t happen because the electorate is primed to understand the stakes of this rematch. This applies in spades for Democrats but for Republicans too. But no third party challenger in 2016 had $100 million like No Labels supposedly is ready to field. The leading MAGA degenerates like Bannon also didn’t have the clarity they do now to see that fielding the right third party challengers are likely Trump’s only path back to the White House.

We can see now that the result in 2024 will likely be determined by how the table is set in advance.

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