The idea sounds preposterous and unachievable when you first think about someone running for President outside our two main parties and their nominees. While the struggle will be hard, it has been done in a roundabout way. Our two prominent political party elites may agree on their nominee, but voters may not.
There has been a tiny ripple, a tear in the fabric of Washington that the politicians do not know how to respond to, so they ignore it. But America is listening, and this undertone makes many things possible that seemed impossible just months ago.
Rich Men North of Richmond
Several months ago, a little-known singer, Oliver Anthony, self-published a composition titled Rich Men North of Richmond. When first hearing the song on YouTube, you realize it is almost a blues ballad sung in a bluegrass style. Then the lyrics hit you, and you recognize Oliver Anthony may have just become the face and voice of many of us who are so tired of Washington.
By September 27, 2023, 73 million people listened to his original song video on YouTube, which does not include the tens of millions who have heard other versions. Even more impressive are the 183,276 comments on YouTube. One-quarter to one-half of our population may have listened to the song by now. I have not heard anyone argue with his lyrics or sentiment, which spells trouble for both political parties.
A Republic, Not a Democracy
Our schools teach American history so poorly that many of our children and grandchildren believe we live in a pure Democracy, not a Republic. This is why there is such wailing and gnashing of teeth every four years if the candidate with the most popular votes does not win the election. The genius of the Founding Fathers can be seen every four years as it plays out in the Electoral College vote. They protected us from the mob rule that has always been the downfall of Democracies, and this stroke of genius is still in place almost two hundred and fifty years later.
Intermittently, Congress debates how Electors are chosen and how the voting process works. Usually, the Party that wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral vote is excited to change the process. But so far, it still stands and is likely to remain unchanged. There are no perfect processes, but this one is lasting and is engrained in our culture for now. Without the Electoral College, the President and Vice President would be chosen by just 143 urban population centers, leaving out 3,000 counties from the voting process and moving us toward a pure democracy and mob rule.
The Electoral College
Without the Electoral College, many citizens in smaller states would not vote because their votes would not make a meaningful difference. But it is the Electoral College that keeps all of us engaged and gives us hope that a movement like No Labels can impact our upcoming election. The process also ensures that no Presidential candidate can ignore the States with a lower population.
The genius of the Electoral College is that every State, plus Washington D.C., has a voice in proportion to its population, and all States have a say since no State is awarded less than three votes. There are 538 Electors, so a candidate must win half the votes plus one, or 270, to win the election. If a third party enters the race with some backing from voters, the nine States with only three Electors will hold significant power. This little twist in how our system works will have Democrats and Republicans fighting to keep the No Labels Movement off the ballot.
If no candidate receives the required 270 votes, then the election moves on to the House of Representatives, where it gets more interesting. Each State receives a single vote in the House, leaving Washington, D.C., out of the process. For Democrats, the loss of Washington, D.C., and the movement to equal State voting power is more critical. States are limited in voting to the top three candidates receiving votes. Montana has just as much power as California or Texas in this process.
In 1800, the Electors had two votes, which they cast for two candidates. Since the top vote-getter became President and the second highest became Vice President, this led to interesting results. Jefferson tied with Aaron Burr in the Electoral College even though his Presidential opponent was John Adams. This quirk in results led to the practice of joint tickets with a Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidate running as a pair. The 1800 decision in the House was difficult, and Jefferson only became President after thirty-six ballots.
In 1824, John Quincy Adams was running against three other candidates. Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, and William H. Crawford were considered viable Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidates. When the general election ended, Adams, Jackson, and Crawford all had votes to advance to the House of Representatives. In 1824, each State had only one vote, and Adams was elected President and Jackson Vice-President when the voting ended.
In 1876, there were electoral disputes once again, but these were settled before decisions could go to the House. Vote rigging, improper ballots, and how to count the Electoral College votes all came into play in the results. Ultimately, the Compromise of 1877 was reached, and enough votes moved over to Rutherford B. Hayes for him to be elected President. Disputes over the Electoral College ballots ended Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, and we avoided another election resolved by the House.
Our twentieth-century elections make our two main parties nervous about a solid third-party push. Before 1996, most candidates had wide margins of victory and the House of Representatives was not a consideration. With the election of Bill Clinton, things began to change, and the margins of victory began to narrow. Ronald Reagan was the last runaway victor with a 97.58% vote. In our 2020 election, Joe Biden won by a margin of 74 votes, which sounds like a lot. But only half that number, 37 votes, had to switch to throw the election into the House of Representatives. With an even number of Electors, the likelihood of a split result is higher, a condition that has existed since 1964.
There have been other disputes and fights, and in recent times, the Bush/Gore fight over “hanging chads” and the disagreement between Biden and Trump will live in election infamy. The process can be messy at times, but it works. We must be exceptionally vigilant whenever politicians push for a change or reform to the Electoral College.
In 2016, the race was even tighter, with President Trump receiving just 56.51% of the Electoral votes. Joe Biden received only 56.88% in 2020. With races this close, a single large State or sectional block can change the results of any election, making the possibility of the No Labels Movement so exciting and vital.
What might happen in 2024?
The possible combinations and permutations of candidates for the election in 2024 are too complex to compute at this point. But if we have a Trump/Biden rematch, there will be a third-party candidate, and perhaps one even with a Trump/? rematch. As we watched the Republican debate on September 27, it came across as a complete waste of time and effort.
Voters are flooded with information on the candidates, and the debates only serve to break Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.” Money that could be spent on the election is wasted on the Republican Party tearing itself apart. The situation has become so absurd that Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsome are now discussing a separate debate under the arrogant assumption that they would be the anointed candidates if Biden or Trump cannot run.
Then we have the Democratic Party side of the election preparation, where they have decided that only Biden will be allowed to run. His cognitive decline and alleged corruption are so apparent that Democrats know he has little chance of winning in a fair race. There is a sharp contrast with no debates and too much debate, which makes all the squabbling look even more out of touch. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is also making enough noise to have the Democrats staying up nights. Recent polling indicates he alone would pull 25% of the Democratic base to a third party. Not since the election of 1992 have voters been more open to a third-party candidate.
The Real Issue
The No Labels Movement may think the issue is “Will the ticket be a Biden/Trump rematch?” I believe the problem is even bigger and will test our political system even more than the current wrangling over the 2020 election. The real issue is whether the No Labels Movement has the courage to run a viable ticket that appeals to the 77% of voters who are fed up and tired of the whole mess created by the “ruling class” in Washington. A Biden/? or a Trump/? contest is not our best choice at this critical time in our history. To be viable, they cannot limit their participation to the Biden/Trump scenario. If neither candidate is viable in a head-to-head matchup, they are not viable on any ticket.
Remember that for the first time in decades, we must ask ourselves: “Am I a Democrat, a Republican, or an American.”
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