One of the great fallacies of the 2016 election is that we are somehow too late in the cycle for a third-party candidate to enter the race and make a difference. As a result, we are left with a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
There have been looks at ways for a third-party candidate to use an existing party to get on the ballot. Perhaps Marco Rubio could jump to the Libertarian party, beat Gary Johnson for the nomination, and end up being on the ballot in 31 states. Maybe Michael Bloomberg could become a Green party candidate and use their path to the nomination. However, there is no way that anybody could do it on their own, right?
Wrong. While ballot access can be a problem, the third-party candidate doesn’t need to run a nationwide campaign in order to stop both Hillary Clinton AND Donald Trump from being President. Instead, they need to run a focused, targeted campaign that puts everything into just a few key states in order to send the election to the House of Representatives for the first time since 1876. This candidate would have to be more acceptable to House Republicans than Trump in order for them to vote them into office over an established party candidate.
Our current electoral map stands at this:
The light grey states are where there’s been no polling and the beige states are too close to call. If we apply the standard 2004/08/12 divisions to the map and assume that Trump plays better in Colorado due to his opposition to immigration and in the Rust Belt due to his economic populism, you’d get a map like this:
The path is there for either a narrow Trump win or a narrow Clinton win. However, if you take a candidate who has strong regional appeal and apply them to the electoral map, suddenly you’ve got a contested election. While I know that this is the Utah fantasy, the candidate who would make the most sense is Mitt Romney. His strong regional base overlays exactly with the group who is most opposed to Donald Trump, he’s got enough money and connections to money that he could effectively run a campaign, and he is currently the face of the #NeverTrump movement. If he ran and targeted his efforts at the 3 most populous LDS states in the nation, he could deny Trump the win and send things to the House, where his former running mate currently holds the gavel.
This scenario assumes that Trump’s negatives wouldn’t keep Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida in the Democratic camp, in which case Clinton would be President with or without Romney’s help. Nevertheless, we should put away the fiction that there’s no way for a third-party candidate to be an effective brake on the road to the White House – it just has to be the right candidate.