You can read the original in USAToday here: A Third-Party Candidate Could Win This Time
An ocean of conventional wisdom is telling us that an independent conservative candidate, should one emerge, will go nowhere fast. But a short while ago, an ocean of conventional wisdom was telling us that Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket violated the basic laws of the universe. This is plainly a moment in American politics in which the extraordinary can happen.
Here are five reasons why the #NeverTrump movement might provide the only serious competition to the Democrats this November — and could even siphon off a few who are themselves looking for an alternative:
- The greatest asset of the #NeverTrump movement is Trump himself. It has become obvious by now to almost all that the GOP presumptive nominee cannot change his spots. Trump promised that after knocking out John Kasich and Ted Cruz, he would tone down his act. “I will be so presidential,” he pledged, “you will be so bored.” But his antics continue — the insults, the tweets, the recycling of tabloid trash that might endear him to his die-hard supporters but mystify or repel almost everyone else. Either Trump does not know what the concept of “presidential” means or, more likely, he is inextricably stuck inside the same cartoonish character he has been all his life.
- During the primaries, Trump’s Republican adversaries mostly held fire, trembling in fear lest they offend Trump voters. Typical was Cruz, who only unloaded on his tormentor on the day he pulled out of the race. Hillary Clinton (assuming she will be the Democratic nominee) will not be so constrained, and neither will her surrogates. Indeed, the Democrats are already having a field day auditioning a cornucopia of ridiculous and offensive pronouncements generated by Trump over decades. To be sure, these negative attacks will do nothing to dampen the fervor of Trump’s fans. But they will inevitably have a discernible effect on everyone else.
- Then there’s the news media. They were relatively gentle to Trump in the primaries when there were 17 GOP targets to scrutinize. Now there is only one Republican standing, and journalists everywhere are entering the operating room suiting up for a vivisection. In 2012, mild, moderate, respectable, sane Mitt Romney got a taste of what it means to be under the journalistic knife in a general election. The liberal press is now going to cut out Trump’s liver, fry it up and eat it out of a taco bowl.
- Which brings us to Trump’s taxes. He says he cannot release any of his returns from the past decade because they are all under audit. According to tax professionals, that is almost certainly either a fib, a falsehood, or a lie, and in any case is hardly a reason why they cannot be made public. Whatever Trump is trying to conceal, the news drumbeat to release the returns will now grow louder and more insistent. Eventually, it will reach a volume that will cause political pain.
- A parallel deficit of substance, yet much more important, goes for policy. The proposals Trump has put forward appear to be based almost entirely upon imaginary thinking. His plan to reduce the national debt to zero in eight years while leaving entitlement spending untouched is about as realistic as manufacturing gold out of seawater. His promise to create a deportation force to ship out America’s 11 million undocumented aliens is no more feasible. Trump got away with this and more in the primaries. In the general election, he will be held by journalists and by his opponents to a standard that he shows no signs of being able to meet.
- The sum total of these weakness is that Trump’s candidacy has a heightened probability of suffering a major implosion, possibly even before the Republican convention in July in Cleveland. It could begin with some spectacular display of ignorance or bad judgment, such as saying (as Trump has done) that judges sign bills or citing (as Trump has also done) a crackpot story from the National Enquirer as a reliable news source. Or it could begin with spectacularly poor poll numbers, as are already turning up, both nationally and in states that have long been reliably red.
To be sure, Trump has already endured countless shipwrecks only to emerge stronger. But the rules of the game in the general election differ radically from the primaries, and the stakes are immeasurably higher.
Whatever the trigger, once the disintegration begins, GOP politicians who have endorsed Trump and denounced the idea of a third party might be fighting one another to get into lifeboats and row madly toward someone else — say Mitt Romney, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska or Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. If a credible conservative independent candidate is in the race, he or she will be there to rescue the Republican Party from its folly and rescue the country from a brush with the least qualified and most temperamentally unfit major-party candidate in all of U.S. history.
Gabriel Schoenfeld was a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Follow him on Twitter @gabeschoenfeld.