Here we are, about 10 weeks from Election Day, a good time to assess the race for the presidency.
Hillary Clinton has been riding a solid lead in the polls for weeks now, since the party conventions in July, and that has pushed Donald Trump to shake up his campaign staff and to stay on script. The Clinton campaign machine is on full throttle, leaving Trump far behind in ground organization and money. It’s Hillary’s race to lose.
The Donald’s problem is that, off-script, he’s shown a temperament that makes people nervous about putting him in charge of our national interests. He’s now trying to “pivot” toward a kinder and gentler persona, but it may be too late. Some impressions are lasting.
The problem for Hillary is baggage from her past. The latest “scandals” revolve around questions about access bought by big Clinton Foundation donors while she was secretary of state, along with a steady drip of questions about her personal email server and any national security secrets she might have exposed with its use. But even if those issues weren’t dogging her, something else would be. The Clintons have been battling accusations of improprieties for decades now, ever since their rise to the national stage in the early 1990s.
For a while, it looked as if this election would generate an incredible voter turnout, but now I’m not so sure. Most would-be voters don’t like Clinton or Trump, which isn’t exactly a motivator to get out and cast a ballot.
It’s the perfect storm for a strong third-party candidate, and this year we have three to choose from: New Mexico’s former governor, Gary Johnson, who’s running as a Libertarian; Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee; and Darrell Castle, the Constitution Party’s candidate. Of those, Johnson’s in the strongest position.
Johnson’s best chance is to get on the debate stage with Trump and Clinton, and to do that, he needs to be polling at 15 percent. The last polls I’ve seen have him hovering at about 10-12 percent. The debates are scheduled for Sept. 26, Oct. 9 and Oct. 19, so he has time—but not much.
If Johnson does get on the debate stage, it’ll be his best chance to offer himself up as a serious candidate and viable alternative. Johnson could still turn out to be an attractive option for a ton of voters who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal, as he is.
But even if he does get to debate, Johnson’s best chance isn’t in winning the election, but in disrupting it, like Ralph Nader did in 2000 and Ross Perot in 1992. Nader and Perot never really had a chance of winning, but they sure turned out to be good spoilers.
The problem for a lot of voters is that by throwing in with a third-party candidate like Johnson, they could be handing the election over to the candidate they hate the most, be it Trump or Clinton. They don’t want to vote for Trump or Clinton but feel they must choose “the lesser of two evils” to keep the more “evil” one out of office.
To counter this, a different kind of approach is being offered this election cycle: voting pacts.
It works like this: A reluctant would-be Clinton voter is paired with a reluctant would-be Trump voter and they both agree to vote instead for a third-party candidate. The resulting “pact” takes two votes away from the major party candidates and hands them over to Johnson, Stein or Castle instead.
“Many Americans want to vote their conscience, but are held back for fear,” votepact.org argues. “The core idea of VotePact is: Instead of voters canceling out each other—one voting for Clinton and the other for Trump—they can both vote for the independent candidates of their choice. This way, they free up votes in pairs to go to the candidates the voters most want. And, because it’s in pairs, it avoids the risks that may come from voting for independent candidates.”
Such an approach might just make voting palatable for a lot of disillusioned Americans.
The challenge, however, is finding someone on the other side you can trust to hold up their end of the bargain. After all, it’s not just Trump and Clinton that people don’t trust these days.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.