For the first time in its history, the Libertarian party might be able to make a splash in a November election – if it can get out of its own way, says Wilson.
“There’s so much dissatisfaction with the two major nominees that this could be the Libertarian moment,” Wilson says. “Unfortunately, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld aren’t all that great of a ticket. Johnson isn’t charismatic at all – he’s trying to build a business by growing and selling pot – so it will be interesting to see if the Libertarian Party hits the five, 10 or 15-percent threshold.”
The 5-percent threshold Wilson refers to is the percentage of the November vote required to qualify a party for federal matching funds during the following presidential election – something that was done by Ross Perot’s Reform Party in 1992 and 1996 before losing the funds in 2000 after Reform candidate Pat Buchanan polled just 1 percent.
The 10 and 15-percent thresholds are the two numbers frequently tossed around when discussing what a party will need to be included in the fall presidential debates.
Constitutional lawyer and National Review writer David French, who was recently floated as a third-party Republican candidate by “Never-Trump” activist Bill Kristol, has his own set of flaws, says Wilson.
“I’ve met French and he’s a very nice guy, a very smart guy, but he has no name recognition and no financial backing, so he’s more of a statement or protest candidate than a viable threat,” says Wilson, who adds there is one potential third-party contender who could shake the race to its core.
“There are a lot of ‘Bernie bros’ who hate Hillary and don’t want to fall in behind her, and they want him to run as an independent,” Wilson says. “If he does, he’ll be very relevant, but barring that, third parties won’t have a big impact in November. Polls show the Libertarians are drawing evenly from both sides of the aisle, so even if they turn out, the partisan impact might not be much.”
Due to the scandals swirling around Trump and Clinton, Wilson says third-party candidates like French, the Libertarians, and potentially others will continue to be a storyline this election, but he expects them to be little more.
“The Libertarians have squandered an opportunity to break through by failing to nominate someone who can catch fire,” Wilson says. “If there were a Mitt Romney, a Sanders or a Michael Bloomberg – someone like that could take advantage of this election. It would be different, but none of those people are running, so the current third-party bids aren’t plausible.”
Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science. He can discuss:
- religion and politics
- political psychology
- voting behavior of religious voters
- public opinion and politics