Libertarians Nominate Johnson and Weld, Kristol Promises Candidate

The Libertarian Party convention in Orlando this week-end took a couple of ballots to nominate for president former Governor of New Mexico and for vice president former Governor of Massachusetts William Weld. Mr. Johnson argues that the two of them have a genuine shot at the White House despite polls showing them with 10% support. Meanwhile, reactionary leader William Kristol tweeted over the week-end that a third-party candidate with a strong team and a real chance has been found to save the conservative movement from Donald Trump. Both stories miss a simple point; the American constitution has a built-in preference for a two-party system.

This journal has a soft spot for the LP. Their ideology is neat, clean, clear and unworkable. As one of their speakers said over the week-end, they want legally married gay couples to be able to protect their legal marijuana crop with legally owned automatic weapons. Were humans angels, the LP could be a governing bloc. Often, however, humans are even less than human. The big flaw in libertarian anarchism is the fact that property rights are the main reason government exists.

Leaving aside the ideological dispute, the constitutional mechanism for picking the president is designed to defeat upstart parties. Since the founding of the Republic, there have been just two main parties. There were the Federalists and anti-Federalists, who later became the Democratic-Republicans (today’s Democrats). Opposition to Andrew Jackson resulted in the establishment of the Whigs, who were replaced by the Republicans.

In short, there hasn’t been a third-party that has won power since 1860. Teddy Roosevelt and his Bull Moose team took second in 1912, and that was probably the closest the system has come to breaking the two-party mold. The 1948 election featured four candidates: Harry Truman of the Democrats, Henry Wallace of the Progressives, Strom Thurmond of the Dixiecrats and Thomas Dewey of the Republicans. Mr. Thurmond won four states, and took 39 electoral votes. Mr. Truman scored a 303 electoral vote victory anyway. In 1968, George Wallace running on a plain racist platform won 5 states and 46 electoral votes, but Richard Nixon won 32 states and 301 electoral votes and Hubery Humphrey’s 13 states and DC got him 191 electoral votes. No third-party effort has won a state since.

Mr. Johnson has said that he can take the White House if he gets 60 electoral votes, meaning he would have to win 6 or 7 states (or a couple of really big ones). That would be enough to deny Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump an electoral college majority, which is required by the constitution. If that happens, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives and the vice presidency by the Senate. In both cases, each state has a single vote. In other words, the House delegations from California, Texas and New York have a vote each as do those of Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota. Mr. Johnson’s scenario requires him to win 26 votes in the House, and he believes many Republican legislators are so appalled by Donald Trump that there are 26 non-Democratic, anti-Trump votes to be had. Mr. Kristol’s far-right, white-knight faces the same problem.

Because the voting will take place after the new Congress is seated, it is hard to tell just how many votes will be in play — one presumes states with Democratic majorities will not vote against Mrs. Clinton. If one uses the current Congress, she would have 14 votes, and 36 would be in play between Mr. Trump and Mr. Johnson or Mr. Kristol’s white knight. It will take 26 to make a president.

In the age of the 24-hour TV news, the internet and social media, it is impossible to envision congressmen and women simply walking into the House and voting for someone who finished third. There might be a few who decide to take a “principled” path, but for the most part, there is going to be immense pressure on them to vote for the man who carried their state in the general election.

Third party politics can work in America, but that tends to happen at the local level. At the presidential level, the stakes are too high, the institutions too rigid for a glorious and peaceful revolution. Mr. Trump has shown that it is easier to take over a political party in the US than it is to build a new one from scratch. So long as that is the case, third parties are simply political third wheels.