The most surprising and topsy-turvy election in modern memory has a long way to go, and at least one more surprise is in waiting. It’s a third-party presidential candidate.
Better For America, an organization launched on June 14, is going to run an independent candidate for president of the United States. The group, comprised of religious leaders and political operatives, is in the process of selecting that candidate, and its chief strategist Joel Searby has confirmed that three recognizable names have already committed to run if asked. At an off-the-record dinner in New York City on Tuesday night, Better For America laid out its plan and the considerable talent and resources behind it.
If you’re familiar with conservative and Republican politics over the last decade, you’ve heard the term RINO (Republican in Name Only) bandied about quite a bit. The main traffickers of this term have spent the better part of the decade applying the term to “establishment Republicans”—those who are affiliated with politicians like Mitt Romney, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and others who have held traditional leadership roles in the party.
Now We’re Serious
Now many of those who decried the RINO infiltration of the party have decided to stand behind a man who is to the left of Hillary Clinton on health care, who donated more money to Clintons than veterans, who publicly humiliated and bullied the National Rifle Association (NRA) after securing its endorsement, and who lauds the important work done at abortion provider and trafficker in baby organs Planned Parenthood. The rest of the GOP—those to the left, right, and center of the conservative movement—are fighting desperately to save the image and the future of the party many have devoted their lives to building and fortifying.
All of that work stands to be undone in just one election cycle, thanks to Donald J. Trump. It is not only possible, but in many ways probable for Republicans to lose the White House, a hope of a Supreme Court majority, the Senate, the House, and a good number of governorships. This is the single most defining moment for the Republican Party in at least a generation.
One would expect a gathering of conservatives around a table gnawing over the possibility of an independent candidate to burst with cigars, bourbon, and some cackling. That’s how Trump would likely portray the scene. The meeting of Better For America in a private room at a swanky hotel in midtown was nothing like that, but rather a sincere attempt to find alternatives to Trump’s new vision for conservatism and Hillary Clinton’s corrupt crony politics.
In this last-minute effort by conservative faith leaders on the heels of Trump’s meeting with evangelical leaders there were no cigars, bourbon, or laughs. The mood was deadly serious. The dinner was attended by folks who, unlike most gatherings of politically oriented individuals, spent no time bloviating or puffing their chests. The mood in the room was of great urgency, both regarding the time left to offer a real third candidate, and the time those in the room had to engage in discussion.
Those present represented some of the most influential faith leaders in America—thought leaders in their respective denominations and intellectual circles. Also present were lawyers and those with the practical experience necessary to undergo the steps to get another candidate on the ballot without a party apparatus behind it.
This Is Actually Possible
A few things about Better For America are important to understand. First and foremost is the fact that the week-old organization is not an attempt to undermine Trump. While Trump supporters and apologists will view this effort to draft an independent candidate as guarantee of a Clinton presidency, Better for America is in it to win. That may sound farfetched, and is indeed unlikely, but it is by no means impossible. Over the course of the two-hour meeting, the organization’s leadership addressed many of the top concerns regarding a third-party candidacy.
The biggest concern is over basic viability. No independent candidate has won a single Electoral College vote since George Wallace in 1968. Even Ross Perot, who netted nearly 20 percent in the 1992 election, failed to win a single state. So what makes Better For America believe this year can be different? The short answer is the unfavorable ratings of both Clinton and Trump. As the group points out in its promotional materials, “The Democratic nominee would be the most disliked major party candidate in modern American history – were it not for the Republican nominee.”
Clearly large swaths of Americans are simply not happy with either choice. If there can be a moment at which an independent candidate can compete to actually win multiple states, 2016 might be that moment. According to Better For America’s research, 65 percent of all Americans and a whopping 90 percent of millennials want a third choice. That doesn’t mean they will vote for a third choice, but it does provide the most promising landscape for one in a generation.
The secondary concern regarding a third-party candidate is ballot access, a subject on which a lot of ink has been spilled in the last few months. On this issue, Better For America isn’t just cautiously optimistic, it is downright bullish. Working with several experts in the field, the group is confident that through petition-gathering and legal maneuvers ballot access can be achieved in virtually every state, including those with deadlines that have already passed.
This may sound a bit pie in the sky, but Better For America has already mobilized to establish access in the states with the earliest deadlines. Should a compelling new candidate enter the race and show some legs, the group is ready to pounce on the opportunity to put him or her on the ballots.
The final, and most important piece of the puzzle is obviously the candidate. Better For America did not indicate the identities of the three people who have already committed to a potential run, other than to say they are well-known. The search appears to be ongoing and exhaustive. They are seeking a candidate who “demonstrates honor, lives with integrity, will unite a divided America and seek the good of all citizens.”
Good Luck, Godspeed
At this late date, most in the media and the nation have given up on a serious third challenger, aside from Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson. The candidacy of National Review’s David French didn’t happen. Sen. Ben Sasse seems unwilling and, despite Bill Kristol’s many phone calls from Acela trains, he has come up empty thus far. Better For America, it seems, has not come up empty. According to Searby, the next few to ten days will be critical, if not dispositive, for their efforts. News of the candidate’s identity will be forthcoming soon. But there will be a candidate. There will be an alternative.
The most surprising and topsy-turvy election in modern memory has a long way to go, and we now know that at least one more surprise is in waiting. Will Americans dissatisfied with Crooked Hillary and Distasteful Donald give an independent candidate a chance? That remains to be seen. But according to Better For America, they will indeed have that opportunity. Those of us eager for a better choice wish them good luck storming the castle.