Could Rick Perry win the White House??

Campaign 2016 | If Trump wins the GOP nomination, a three-way race becomes more likely
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 3/14/16, 12:10 pm

WASHINGTON—In 2006, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, faced an unusual reelection battle. U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, a well-funded Democrat, independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the powerful state comptroller, and independent Richard “Kinky” Friedman, a well-known entertainer, all launched serious bids for the Texas governor’s mansion.

In a long, contentious campaign, Perry won reelection with 39 percent of the vote. Bell came in second with 30 percent, followed by Strayhorn with 18 percent, and Friedman with 12 percent.

Why does this election matter today? It offers a glimpse into how Perry—or a conservative like him—could mount a credible third-party bid for the White House this fall.

As more and more conservatives pledge not to vote for Republican frontrunner Donald Trump under any circumstances, talk of a third-party candidacy is increasing. Many argue conservatives who oppose Trump would only help elect Hillary Clinton, but a constitutional conservative could have a path unavailable to a liberal challenger such as Michael Bloomberg—who last week announced he would not run as an independent because it would help elect the Republican nominee.

Consider this scenario: Trump and Clinton represent the major parties in November, and most states mirror 2012 results, but Trump adds wins in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and New Hampshire. Those 64 electoral votes would put Trump at 270 and Clinton at 268. 

But suppose, for example, Rick Perry runs on a third-party ticket and manages to win his home state with its 38 electoral votes. He would deprive both candidates of the requisite 270-vote majority and throw the outcome to the U.S. House of Representatives, which would choose the next president from among the top three contenders.

House Republicans enjoy a 246-188 advantage over Democrats, but the Constitution assigns one vote to each state delegation. Today Republicans control 33 delegations—Texas is the largest—and Democrats have 17.

If the Republican-controlled House had to choose between Clinton, Trump, and a viable conservative candidate such as Perry, it’s conceivable the third-place candidate could emerge the winner.

The scenario may sound far-fetched, but it’s happened twice before: In 1800, four candidates split the electoral tally, resulting in the House voting to make Thomas Jefferson the nation’s third president. In 1824, the House selected John Quincy Adams to become the sixth president, even though he did not secure a plurality of electoral votes in the general election.

A mounting body of evidence suggests millions of voters would find a Clinton/Trump matchup unacceptable. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found two-thirds of registered voters couldn’t see themselves backing Trump, and 56 percent felt the same way about Clinton. Among likely voters, 46 percent would be willing to consider a third-party candidate.

Influential conservatives such as radio hosts Glenn Beck, Erick Erickson, and Steve Deace have put their support behind the #NeverTrump social media effort, trying to rally conservatives against the billionaire businessman.

“It is certainly raising awareness that Trump is fundamentally flawed, and his supporters are deluding themselves if they think he can beat Hillary Clinton,” said Erickson, who in February tweeted he would support a Perry third-party bid.

The one-state-win scenario could work for any of the three remaining Trump challengers, but all have pledged to support the GOP nominee—especially Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. While Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida backtracked slightly over the weekend, they have maintained their pledges.

Some have floated Mitt Romney as a potential candidate, but since mainly conservatives are vowing not to vote for Trump, it’s highly unlikely Romney would energize more than a small bloc of protest voters.

A candidate from Texas makes the most sense: It is the largest reliably Republican state, and its 2006 gubernatorial contest shows a three-way race is winnable. Although Perry would come with baggage—most notably two straight failed presidential bids—the fifth-generation Texan is six-for-six in statewide races and is the longest-serving governor in state history.

Traditional wisdom says a three-way race would help Clinton—the same way Ross Perot enabled Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 and 1996—but Trump’s unusual coalition of support may scramble the traditional electoral map.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., has been among the most vocal anti-Trump voices in Congress and circulated a letter calling on Cruz and Rubio to form a unity ticket. (On Friday he endorsed Cruz.) If Trump ends up the nominee, Franks told me he would only vote for a third-party challenger who had a credible chance to derail Clinton. But a one-state winner could qualify.

“A better alternative—that’s all I need, and I won’t vote for him,” said Franks, chairman of the House Constitution subcommittee. “I’m committed more to the principles of the Republican Party than the Republican Party.”

This article has been edited to reflect the correct number of electoral votes available in a presidential election.

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD Radio’s managing editor. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012 and eventually becoming WORLD’s Washington Bureau chief. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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