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September 23rd, 2023 Len’s Letter #65 What if No Labels Runs a Third Party Candidate for President in 2024?
1992. 2000 2024
Democrats are haunted by Al Gore’s loss to George W Bush in 2000. It was excruciating. Florida was called for Gore by the media. The media took the call back. Then Florida was called for Bush. And that was the election.
Not quite, of course. There was litigation. On December 8, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a state wide recount of the 61,000 votes that vote tabulations had missed. The Bush campaign asked the US Supreme Court to stay that decision and to stop all recounting. On December 9, the US Supreme Court granted the stay. Justice Scalia argued that allowing the counting to continue would cause GW Bush irreparable harm. It would “cast a needless and unjustifiable cloud” on the legitimacy of Bush’s election. Justice Stephens disagreed.
Oral arguments were held on December 11. The US Supreme Court ruled that the Florida statutory deadline of December 12 could not be met and the deadline could not be extended. The 27 votes cast by the Florida electors on December 18 gave GW Bush the election.
Subsequent media examination organized by the National Opinion Research Center found that counting the uncounted votes from the large counties as was sought by the Gore campaign would have sustained a Bush victory, The same subsequent examination found that the counting all of the uncounted votes throughout the state, as the Florida Supreme Court had ruled, would have led to a Gore victory in Florida and, therefore, in the nation.
Democrats remember that nationally, Al Gore received more votes than GW Bush. Democrats have sustained some moderate bitterness toward the US Supreme Court decision because of their decision. They have hardly noticed the likelihood that a full count of those uncounted votes would have led to a Democratic victory. Instead, they have focused their anger on Ralph Nader when the 2000 election might have been remembered as a judicial coup d’etat.
The Florida vote without counting the undercount was Bush/Cheney 2,912,790. Gore/Lieberman 2,912,253 votes. The difference was 537 votes. Third party, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, appealed primarily to voters on the left, voters who might have been more likely to vote for Al Gore if the Green Party had not been on the ballot. He received 97,488 votes in Florida.
Politico reported on the Democrats’ fear of a 2024 third party candidate in a July 17, 2023 article about what it called a No Labels “coming out party.” Politico noted that Democratic US Senator Joe Manchin and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman were there portentously for the No Label festivities.
Congresswoman Annie Kuster of New Hampshire spoke for many in the Democratic Party when she said, of No Labels, that “Their plan to run a third-party ticket in 2024 will pave the path for the most extreme, far-right candidate to win the White House – namely, former President Trump.”
The magazine, Mother Jones, obtained a list of 36 donors to the New Label effort. Most of them were Republicans. Several were current or former chief executives of large corporations. Most had donated large amounts to Republican PACs or Republican candidates. Some were Democratic donors.
Was Annie Kuster right? Would a well-funded No-Labels presidential candidate attract anti-Trump voters, voters who worry about Joe Biden’s age and undermine Biden’s candidacy and elect Donald Trump? That would be a terrible result, worse than the election of GW Bush because of Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy.
The United States of America could certainly use a more responsible conservative party that the current Republicans. The current Republicans, who are overwhelmingly either supporters of Donald Trump or cowed by him have lost their legitimacy as a Center-Right political party. The Republicans who accept Trump’s behavior after the 2020 election seem unable or unwilling to distinguish Al Gore’s legal effort through litigation to ensure that votes in Florida were counted and Donald Trump’s illegal effort through the creation of false election results so that false electors could be counted.
I am a Democrat, left of center in the Democratic party, but I believe there is a need for a legitimate Center Right party. We don’t have one now. The No Labelers do not seem able to do what is really needed, to replace the Republican Party.
When we consider the possibility of a No Label Presidential candidate in 2024, we might do better to compare the impact of a third-party candidate on the 1992 election than to think about the 2000 election when Ralph Nader was the difference. Joe Manchin is no Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader was a crusading consumer advocate. Joe Manchin is a pro-fossil fuel conservative Democrat. He is more like the quirky Texas businessman Ross Perot who ran for President in 1992.
Despite the lack of institutional relationships that an existing political party can provide, despite Ross Perot’s personal officiousness that drove away some leading moderate figures from each party who might have signed on with him, he had astounding results in 1992 and substantial results in 1996. Ross Perot almost certainly drew a majority of his votes from people who would otherwise have voted Republican. Similarly, it is reasonable to think that a No Label Presidential candidate would draw from the non-Trump Republicans.
In 1992, Bill Clinton received 44,909,889 votes. The incumbent President GWH Bush received 30,104,550 votes. A landslide right? A differential of 14,805,339. In that election Ross Perot received 19,743,821 votes – almost 5 million more than the differential between Bill Clinton and GHW Bush, nearly two-thirds of the vote the Republican candidate for President received. Did Ross Perot ensure Bill Clinton’s victory? Bill Clinton won the electoral college vote 370 – 168. Ross Perot carried no states and won no electoral college votes.
One way to think about third party candidates is to consider the percentage of the third-party candidate’s vote that the losing candidate needed in order to actually win the election. Because this is the United States, we have to consider that question state by state. For instance, in 1992, if 4.4% of Perot’s vote in Georgia had gone to GWH Bush, Bush would have carried Georgia, not Clinton. Look at the states that Clinton won. We realize, when we look, that Bush was far enough away from winning a portion of Perot’s vote so that there is no reason for Republicans to day-dream about the possibility that Bush could have won if he had gained enough of Ross Perot’s votes.
1992 was unlike 2000. In 2000, if 5.5% of the Ralph Nader vote in Florida had gone to Al Gore, Gore would have won the election (Notwithstanding the fact that Gore probably did win the election.)
To help consider what the impact of a No Labels candidate might have in 2024, look at the results in 1992. Take a look at the states the Bill Clinton won and the percentage of the Perot vote that GHW Bush would have needed to have won the election.
|Bill Clinton votes||GHW Bush
|Ross Perot votes||Clinton votes minus Bush votes||% of Perot votes Bush needed to win|
|2000||Gore||Bush||Nader||Bush minus Gore||% of P votes Clinton
In 1992, George HW Bush was close enough to contemplate the possibility that he would have gotten some of Ross Perot’s votes – 4.4% of Perot’s votes in Georgia (13 Electoral College votes), 5.6% of his votes in New Hampshire (4 electoral votes), 9.6% of his votes in Montana (3 electoral votes), and 10% of his votes in Nevada (4 electoral votes). Those 24 Electoral College votes would have gotten him up to a total of 192 Electoral College votes – still a long way from winning. Even with 15 more electoral college votes from New Jersey by GHW Bush getting 15% of Perot’s vote, the Republican electoral college total would have increased to only 207 votes. There is no day-dream here of a GHW Bush victory.
We cannot tell whether Bill Clinton would have been elected in 1992 if Perot had not been on the ballot. Nor can we tell what the effect would be if Joe Manchin or someone else were to be on the ballot for the No Labelers. We know that Joe Manchin is no Ralph Nader. If Joe Manchin is more like Ross Perot, if his running as a No Labeler is going to cost someone the election, it is more likely that he or she will cost the Republicans.
If Joe Manchin runs for President as a No Labeler, he might cost the Democrats the Senate. There are several vulnerable Democratic Senators, none more vulnerable than Joe Manchin himself. There are a few vulnerable Republican Senators. Without Joe Manchin running in West Virginia, it is easier to imagine a Republican Senate.
If Joe Manchin were to ask me (I don’t think he will), I would urge him to stay in the Senate. We need every Democrat we can keep in the Senate – even one who is as hard on his Democratic colleagues as Joe Manchin is.
I hope and expect the Democrats will win the 2024 presidential election with or without the confusion of a third-party candidate. What I do not know is our path, America’s path to a responsible conservative party. Running Joe Manchin as a No Labeler in 2024 is not that path.
One last thought. If there is a 2024 Third Party candidate who resembles Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000, it is Green Party candidate Cornel West. If a third-party candidate is going to elect Donald Trump, Cornel West is your man.
The Presidential Campaign has begun.
Donate: Joe Biden/Kamala Harris