By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
WASHINGTON — An independent presidential run by Donald Trump would sink Republican chances of winning the White House, but Trump would be the biggest loser. And if there is one thing Trump can’t afford or stomach, it’s losing.
During the wealthy businessman’s latest dustup with the GOP establishment over his proposed travel ban on all Muslims, Trump used a new USA Today/Suffolk University survey as a thinly-veiled threat.
“A new poll indicates that 68 percent of my supporters would vote for me if I departed the GOP & ran as an independent,” Trump posted on Facebook, which also went out on Twitter.
Leading the polls in a multi-candidate field, and with this latest poll in hand, Trump seems to believe he is operating from a position of strength. In fact, he isn’t.
First of all, 68 percent of his supporters is not a lot of people in the context of the larger electorate.
In 2012, Republicans made up 32 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls. Trump is supported by about 27 percent of GOP voters right now. And 68 percent of those supporters say they would support him as an independent. That’s about 6 percent of potential general election voters.
Of course, Trump could get some support from independent voters, and maybe even some disaffected Democratic voters (though that doesn’t seem particularly likely). But the bottom line is that Trump the independent would be nowhere near putting together a plurality coalition.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering third-party candidacies historically “crash and fail,” as Harry Enten wrote at FiveThirtyEight, ranging from Henry Wallace’s 2 percent in 1948 to Ross Perot’s 19 percent in 1992 and a few candidacies in between.
We know from down-ballot races that independent or third-party candidates win when one party’s nominee collapses and the third-party candidate becomes the de facto nominee for one major party.
Some of the best examples are Bernard Sanders’ victories in Vermont or Joseph Lieberman’s re-election in 2006. In that race, Lieberman lost the Democratic primary but won as a third-party candidate when the GOP nominee received less than 10 percent of the vote.
That’s just not going to happen in this presidential race.
Without Trump in the GOP primary, Republicans are guaranteed to nominate someone who is not Trump, and will presumably have broader appeal within the party. That will force Trump to formulate a coalition largely made up of independents and Democrats.
At a minimum, Trump would virtually destroy the GOP presidential nominee’s chance of getting 270 electoral votes. Republicans don’t have enough margin to give up 6 percent of GOP voters who would normally vote for the Republican nominee, and win any of the swing states including Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Virginia. And 6 percent from the GOP nominee would put North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri and Georgia at greater risk as well.
There is a logistical challenge of running as an independent. One expert told CNN it would take about 570,000 signatures to gain ballot access in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But Trump can afford to spend the money necessary to pay people to gather those signatures, if he wanted to go that route, and it’s certainly possible that Trump will run as an independent to spite the Republican Party after feeling mistreated during the primary process.
But Trump could have even more to lose than the Republican Party. Trump would be risking political bankruptcy and damage to the “winning” Trump brand.
A third-party candidacy would lead to a loss, and losing is the antithesis of who Trump says he is and often comes with a dose of humility; a character trait Trump is neither familiar with nor interested in cultivating.
After the election, would Trump call in to the networks and cable shows every day to answer questions about how and why he lost?
As I wrote last month, Trump has to get out of the race before he loses the race in order to preserve his image. And running as an independent would make it even more difficult for him to win the White House than staying in the GOP race.
©2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at the meeting of the New England Police Benevolent Association in Portsmouth, New Hampshire December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm