Friday, September 9, 2011

A Third Party Bid for Palin?

Observing what he calls "Palin's Populist Twist," Andrew Sullivan writes:
I wonder if she's contemplating a populist third party campaign. Or if this anti-establishment message is what she will bring to the GOP contest. Or whether she is just trying to recast her celebrity image a little. Well, we'll soon find out.
I had the same third party thought when she gave a speech that seemed meant to hit Obama, Romney, and Perry all at once. But if she does intend to do a third party challenge, we may well not soon find out.

I can see her saying she’s not in the GOP race, and then dangling the tease about a possible third party bid if the nomination contest results in a candidate who doesn’t offer a real choice. Since she has made it clear that she does not intend to not run according to traditional rules, she can take a long time to decide on that—maybe until there is an actual Republican nominee.

She may be so narcissistically deranged that she thinks her base would be enough to get her an electoral college win. Or maybe she is as shrewd as Sullivan says and realizes that, with her high negatives, the only way she could win is in a three-way race.

There is precedent for a candidate reviled by a large section of the public being elected president: Abraham Lincoln. He was despised in the South, but was elected president with less than 40% of the popular vote because he won heavily populated Northern states in an election with three or four major candidates (based on your definition of "major").

In 1912, in the midst of an era of Republican domination of the presidency, Democrat Woodrow Wilson won with 41.8%, because the Republicans divided between incumbent William Howard Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt.

These two examples, however, show the problem Palin would face if she did launch an independent bid for the presidency.

Lincoln's advantage was that his vote was concentrated exclusively in the populous Northern states with lots of electoral votes. His inability to garner any votes in the South did not hurt him. Wilson's advantage was that he was running against two Republicans (though TR rebranded himself as the "Progressive" Party candidate that year). Wilson could rely on a loyal and united Democratic base.

Palin would have neither of these advantages. Her supporters are geographically scattered, and even if she portrayed herself as an independent or "Tea Party" candidate, she would be remembered by voters as the Republican vice-presidential candidate from 2008. Her vote would be drawn from those Republican and "change" votes that would otherwise go to the Republican nominee.

In other words, she'd be more likely to be the 2012 equivalent of Ross Perot, who got nearly 19% in 1992 and  8.4% in 1996.

But if Palin really burns to be president (as opposed to merely using the possibility of a run to rake in cash), a third-party bid is probably her only chance.  In a poll that asked not favorable/unfavorable but gauged enthusiasm for and against candidates, an abysmal 58% said they'd never vote for Palin.

However, she also scored 15% on the question of who would vote for "enthusiastically." That doesn't sound great either, until you notice that the only other Republican who scored as well was Mitt Romney, also with 15%. Another 24% said they'd "consider" voting for Palin.

With those numbers, there is simply no way Palin could win a two-way race. However, in a hypothetical Obama-Romney race, Palin may well believe she could enter as a self-proclaimed Tea Party candidate, mobilize the Tea Party base, get votes from those not enthused about Romney, and squeak out a narrow victory.

I think that scenario is extremely unlikely, even delusional. But I also think neither of those things would matter much to Palin. And it is the only way she could win a presidential election.


  1. I'm convinced she just likes the attention. And I'm sure that "raking in the cash" doesn't hurt either.

  2. Mark, you used the wrong adjective to describe the 58% who would never vote for Palin. Those people are not "abysmal," they are "sane."