What did George C. Wallace, H. Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader have in common? If you remember the presidential elections from 1968 to 2000, the answer will come easily to you – it’s not totally provable, but they probably changed history. They were all spoilers. Bear with me, I think I have a point.
Let’s look at George C Wallace, who ran for president in 1968, as did Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Wallace was a popular southern Democrat, more conservative than most, who was against segregation and for generous increases in Social Security and Medicare. He drew voters from both parties, but probably lured more blue collar union workers away from the Democrats. With him in the race, Nixon and Humphrey were very close in the popular vote, but Wallace may have drawn enough votes to ensure that Nixon won.
In 1992, there was little doubt that George Bush the elder would have been re-elected — and Bill Clinton would have been defeated, because H. Ross Perot’s ultra-conservative appeal captured 19 million votes, the majority of which came from Republicans. He came back in 1996 to garner 8 million votes. If all those votes had gone to Dole, the popular vote would have been nearly even. I hesitate to admit it, but in 1992, I voted for Ross Perot. He was much more conservative than Dole, a really nice old guy who would never hurt a fly (unfortunately, a good president has to be ready to hurt flies.)
In 2000, a year in which Al Gore won the majority of the popular vote but lost to George W. Bush in the electoral college, Ralph Nader’s nearly 3 million votes would have swung the election to Gore. In the state of Florida alone, Nader cost Gore the presidency. Nader was a fanatic consumer protection advocate and environmentalist who appealed mostly to people who otherwise would have voted as Democrats.
These spoilers likely knew they had no chance to win the presidency, and liked the eventual winner less than the loser, but for whatever reason, they went ahead and ran, changing history in the process. Some think of them as nut cases – more radical than candidates in the two traditional parties. Imagine a world where Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were never president. In my view, they only made it thanks to the spoilers.
In the 2012 field, there are other potential spoilers, who may decide to run as 3rd party candidates. Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachman are all radical enough and may be stubborn enough to go on their own. Each of them would attract a small number of votes away from the Republican candidate, probably enough to swing the majority to Barack Hussein Obama. Palin and Bachman are Tea Party candidates, while Ron Paul is Libertarian. The Libertarian beliefs have a certain appeal, and in a world of decent and responsible people, might even work. From Wikipedia: The platform emphasizes individual liberty in personal and economic affairs, avoidance of "foreign entanglements" and military and economic intervention in other nations’ affairs and free trade and migration. It calls for Constitutional limitations on government as well as the elimination of most state functions. Those ideas ring bells with a lot of people, and Paul gets a surprising number of votes.
Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman, and Sarah Palin have virtually no chance to emerge from the primaries as the official Republican Party candidate. Only Paul is an announced candidate as of this date, but the other two seem likely to enter. Of the three, I believe that Ron Paul most likely to be a 3rd party candidate. He’s just rabid enough, and he’s very stubborn. In past primaries, he eventually dropped out when it was certain he couldn’t win. In the next year and a half, he may decide to stay in and spoil the future of the Republican Party and the American people.