Trump’s Other Nightmare for the GOP: Running as an Independent
By Robert Kuttner | Jul 15, 2015
Donald Trump has performed an immense service by saying squirm-inducing things and thus forcing Republicans to either distance themselves from his idiocy—or not.
It’s a delightful vise, because Trump is now tied for first place in GOP presidential preference polls, with Jeb Bush. Attack him and you alienate Trump admirers. Fail to attack him and you look as crazy as he is.
It’s tempting to dismiss this lead as just celebrity and name-recognition, but one way or another the Donald is destined to play a major role in the 2016 campaign. He has the money and the ego, and he will be an embarrassment for the next 16 months.
And it gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective).
Trump is probably too much of a buffoon to get the Republican nomination, however he has pointedly refused to rule out running as an independent.
This is a wonderful turnabout from recent years, when independent candidacies haunted Democrats. In 2000, Ralph Nader running as a third-party candidate very likely denied Al Gore the presidency.
At the time, I begged Nader, whom I know well, to run instead in the Democratic primaries, but to no avail. This time, Bernie Sanders is playing the far more salutary role of challenging Hillary Clinton as a Democrat, and Sanders will not run as an independent should he fail to be nominated.
By contrast, the 2016 election could be like 1992, when third party crackpot H. Ross Perot ran as an independent—and at one point in the spring of 1992 was running ahead of both Clinton and his Republican rival, the sitting president George H.W. Bush. In the end, Perot drew off more Republican votes than Democratic ones, and Clinton was elected with just 43 percent of the popular vote.
The Republican game has been to fight about who can posture farthest to the far right. Now they are getting exactly what they deserve. For sheer lunatic appeal and demagogy, it’s hard to trump Trump.