The New York Times published a big piece this weekend diving into the newest flurry of anti-Donald Trump activity by conservative activist groups and pundits, and it really is a must-read if you want to understand the depths of desperation professional conservatives are feeling now that Trump has bounced Marco Rubio from the presidential race.
The focus of the story is on the renewed efforts to deny Trump wins and delegates in upcoming primary states, combining what the Times calls “an array of desperation measures, the political equivalent of guerilla fighting.” The plan is to keep Trump from hitting the required number of delegates to clinch the nomination outright or convince delegates to turn on Trump prior to the nominating convention. Should that effort fail, though, the conservatives have a last-ditch fallback option: an independent third-party candidate. At the center of this absurd plan is Weekly Standard editor and professional wrong person William Kristol, who has drafted a memo explaining why it might work:
The names of a few well-known conservatives have been offered up in recent days as potential third-party standard-bearers, and William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, has circulated a memo to a small number of conservative allies detailing the process by which an independent candidate could get on general-election ballots across the country.
Among the recruits under discussion are Tom Coburn, a former Oklahoma senator who has told associates that he would be open to running, and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who was suggested as a possible third-party candidate at a meeting of conservative activists on Thursday in Washington.
So there’s no candidate, and there doesn’t seem to be any money lined up for this scheme, which means there’s no actual reason to take any of this third-party stuff seriously – it’s just Bill Kristol and his buddies playing fantasy politics. They might relish the idea of Rick Perry or Tom Coburn emerging from political Siberia to take on Donald Trump and save the Republican Party, but the practical realities of running an independent candidacy seem a bit too daunting (realities that exist alongside the fact that Perry is a two-time presidential loser and Coburn has no national profile to speak of). To understand why, let’s look at the ballot access requirements in a few states any conservative candidate must win to even stand a chance in a general election.
No right-leaning candidate can win the presidency without Texas and its 38 electoral votes. But getting on the ballot in Texas would, at this point, be just about impossible. State law requires that independent candidates submit a petition to the secretary of state containing signatures equal to at least one percent of the total number of people who voted in Texas in the 2012 presidential election – that comes out to just shy of 80,000 signatures. But that’s not all! The law also states that the signatures must come from voters who did not vote in either party’s presidential primary on March 1, which means some 4 million Texas voters would not be eligible. And, to cap it all off, the petition must be submitted by May 9 – that’s 50 days from today.
So, if the Kristol independent candidate movement were to start operations in Texas today (which it can’t do because it has no candidate and no money), it would have to collect 1,600 signatures per day (all from voters who haven’t already voted for a presidential candidate this year) just to get on the ballot.
And that’s just for Texas. To get on the ballot in Georgia and be eligible for the state’s 16 electoral votes, Kristol’s candidate would signatures equal to 1 percent of the total number of registered voters in the state in 2012 – roughly 47,600 signatures – by the second Tuesday in July. For North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes, they’ll need just under 90,000 signatures before June 24. For Indiana and its eleven electoral votes, the Kristol candidate would need over 26,000 signatures by July 15. These are critical states for conservative presidential candidates, and there is no organization in any of them to get this hypothetical anti-Trump candidate on the ballot. And this is just a handful of states – getting on the ballot across the country will require huge amounts of spending and infrastructure building to sneak the candidate (whoever it is) in just ahead of the various filing deadlines.
There’s also apparently no urgency on Kristol’s part to get things rolling. He says the independent candidate route is the “just in case” option should efforts to deny Trump the Republican nomination not succeed. This isn’t how any of this works – you either organize and mount and national presidential campaign, or you don’t. It’s not something you slap together at the last second because Plan A fell through.