Trump Needs a Strong Third Party Challenge But Will He Get It?

This article first appeared at on 6th May 2020

Polling signals for November’s election remain remarkably consistent, in line with trends during the Trump era. They do not make good reading for the incumbent.

US opinion remains deeply entrenched

Such trends fit the broad analysis that I’ve pushed pretty much ever since Trump entered politics. That he is the ultimate ‘Marmite’ character, about whom very few change their minds and are unlikely to ever do so. A candidate who prefers to double down to appease his base, rather than pivot to the centre. Who would rather go to war with his critics than reach out to them. A poor gameplan when your approval ratings are entrenched negative.

Whilst that position has served me well with regards special and mid-term elections, I am frequently asked: “But you got it wrong in 2016. Why will 2020 be any different?”

Third party candidates surged in 2016

To answer to that relevant and legitimate question, we need to reconsider the 2016 numbers with particular focus on third party challengers. Trump and Hillary Clinton were the two least popular candidates in presidential election history. Consequently, the combined share of the Republican and Democrat candidates fell by four percentage points from 98.3 in 2012, to 94.3%.

Both Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) saw their vote share treble on 2012, while Evan Mcmullin (Independent Republican) took 0.5%. Almost certainly, their surge took net votes away from Clinton. Particularly Stein – whose leftist agenda hoovered up disgruntled supporters of Bernie Sanders.

Trump only won the electoral college – he lost the popular vote by 2.9M – by a freakish 70K votes spread across three states, where the Democrat vote was either split or suppressed. All were targeted by the Kremlin fake news campaign exposed by Robert Mueller’s investigation and confirmed by no less than the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee to have been executed in order to help Trump.

Trump needs more votes but share is down

There are no polling signals to suggest Trump will improve on his 46.1% vote share. In an extensive recent interview for The Political Trade podcast, former Bill Clinton advisor James Carville booked Trump’s share in November at 44.5%. If so, his only hope of retaining the presidency is for other candidates to take votes away from Joe Biden.

There certainly will be extra candidates. For one, Justin Amash – an ex-Republican from Michigan, running for the Libertarian candidacy. Amash was one of the earliest voices to call for Trump’s impeachment and has frequently railed against the administration’s racking up of debt.

Nobody gives Amash a prayer of winning a state but his principled critique of Trump and Conservatism is entitled to attract some votes.

Cuban attracting market support

A more interesting name is Mark Cuban – the Dallas Mavericks owner and star of TV show ‘Shark Tank’. Cuban was a vocal critic of Trump as a businessman before entering office and has long flirted with the idea of a presidential run.

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