Bill Kristol posted a somewhat cryptic Tweet this weekend.
He is hinting at an impressive independent candidate with a strong team and a real chance. I first saw this tweet while Will and I were doing the radio show last Sunday, and I misinterpreted it to be a reference to Gary Johnson's having just won the Libertarian nomination a few hours earlier. Of course, that was wrong. As Will pointed out, Bill Kristol is a strong Neoconservative, and he will certainly not find Johnson appealing. I've seen no follow-up from Kristol in the two days since the tweet. People have speculated that the candidate could be Mitt Romney, but I doubt it. Mostly, folks are just confused by what Kristol could possibly have in mind. Most of the speculation has centered around the impossible nature of a last minute independent bid. The filing deadline for Texas has already passed, and other states' deadlines will soon pass as well. And even then, getting on the ballot in many of these states requires a lengthy, exhausting, and expensive effort in collecting signatures.
But maybe Bill Kristol has been reading our stuff. For a few months now, some of us Libertarians have been fantasizing about a somewhat whimsical campaign strategy. Mind you, this is not the Johnson campaign strategy, just the bizarre hallucinations of a few crazy Libertarians with too much time on their hands. The plan is described in the following scenario: Gary Johnson concentrates his efforts in a small number of states with the focus being to win at least one small state, or a state where Electoral College electors are allocated proportionally. Nebraska and Maine allocate one vote to each Congressional District, and the remaining two votes to the overall statewide winner. The rest of the states are winner take all. We then hope that Trump and Hillary fight to a draw or near draw where they each fail to win a majority of the electoral votes. There are 538 Electoral College votes. One for each member of the House and Senate (535) plus 3 more for the District of Columbia. Total of 538. You need a majority to win the presidency, that is 50% plus one. That's 270 votes. One possible result could look like this:
That throws the race to the House of Representatives. The 12th Amendment mandates that the House choose from among the top three Electoral College vote getters. In our Libertarian fantasy, the newly elected, and presumably still Republican House of Representatives, led by Paul Ryan (no Trump fan he) makes the following calculation:
- We're never going to vote for Hillary.
- We despise Trump almost as much and have been praying for a means by which to jettison him.
- We'll vote for Johnson, a former two term Republican governor, and suffer the shitstorm that ensues.
So what if Kristol is pondering the same strategy? Find a candidate. Marry him or her up with enough #Never Trump donors to run a credible, but geographically and strategically limited campaign, and concentrate all efforts in states and Congressional Districts where they think they have a fighting chance of winning. The more Electoral College votes the candidate wins, the better the chance that both Trump and Hillary fail to achieve the magic 270, but under ideal circumstances, all it takes is one electoral vote for the "spoiler". Some will argue that this independent strategy has never worked in the past. Even Ross Perot with 19% of the popular vote got no Electoral College votes. That's true, but Perot was running a nationwide campaign against relatively popular mainstream candidates. Kristol's candidate will be opposing the most polarizing and despicable human beings in the western hemisphere, and all efforts will be focused like a laser beam on areas of the country where success is most likely.
So where do you focus your resources if you want the easiest wins of the most Electoral College votes? And where, if you lose the state, you don't accidentally alter the establishment expectations of Trump vs Clinton wins to the point that you tip one or the other to an Electoral College majority where they might otherwise have fallen short? First, maybe focus on Nebraska and Maine where you might eke out one or more of the proportionally allocated votes. More on that later. You might also focus on swing states with the easiest ballot access and the largest numbers of independent voters, especially the states where Trump and Hillary both lost their respective primaries by the largest margins. Or maybe you flood the zone in small states where you can get the biggest Electoral College bang for the smallest number of limited campaign bucks. I'm sure that a decent team of election professionals and maybe a computer algorithm or two could come with a potentially winning strategy based on those principles.
And who's the candidate? Here's a list of criteria that would make the most sense in diminishing order of relevance:
Neoconservative leanings or at least not totally hostile to Neoconservative views or else Kristol would not be the prime mover here.
Obviously none of this years failed Republican candidates need apply
Someone of substance or the effort would be doomed from the start.
Pro life. Not critical, but, there are no candidates currently in the race who are pro life. Pro lifers are motivated, and they vote. Trump says he is pro life, but he's a liar, and most of the pro life folks know it. Kristol would have to pick a real superman to pass up a pro life candidate here.
Moderate Republican, moderate Democrat or independent. Not polarizing and equally appealing to disaffected Republicans and Democrats.
Not currently in the political arena. That will help insulate this candidate from the inevitable accusations of spoiler. If they are currently in politics, this could be a career ending enterprise if it fails. They will need to be willing to take a bullet for their country if the effort is unsuccessful.
Favorite son of a state or district that offers best odds for a win.
Here is my current short list based on a limited imagination and my imperfect knowledge of the players from whom I believe Kristol would choose.
Absolutely top of the list is Robert Gates. He is a remarkable man, with reasonable name recognition amongst those not living under a rock for the past decade. His character is beyond reproach as far as I know. His 'straight out of the movies' resume includes Eagle Scout, and current President of the Boy Scouts of America, university president, and of course, an incredible executive resume as Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense. He has bi-partison appeal, having served faithfully under presidents of both parties. He is truly the Dwight David Eisenhower of the 21st century. And, oh by the way, he served directly with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, so he will be somewhat insulated from attacks from them, and if it becomes necessary, he probably knows where some bodies are buried. I've seen him on the talk shows. He interviews well, coming across as serious, sincere, capable, and trustworthy. I believe he is enough of a patriot to take on this task despite its unconventional nature and the risks involved. The country is after all in great peril.
David Petraeus has many of the same attributes as Gates, so I felt compelled to include him. He obviously has some major drawbacks which limit his appeal stemming from the extramarital affair and subsequent criminal charges for not safeguarding secret documents. Apart from the obvious character implications of the affair, the mishandling of secret information charge would somewhat insulate Hillary from her own email troubles, so Petraeus is not as appealing an option as Gates. Still, there are many who would overlook his negatives if he was the candidate.
James Mattis is on the list only because Kristol had floated the name several weeks ago. He lacks the name recognition of the others, and frankly, I think the nickname "Mad Dog" is in and of itself a bit too polarizing. Still, he's on my list.
Finally, on my short list is Ben Sasse. Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska is the outlier. He doesn't have the name recognition or the resume/gravitas of the others, and he may not be willing to stake his political career on such a risky move. But he has exhibited the character to defy the Republican Party and proclaim he will not support Trump. He also hails from Nebraska, one of the states where all you need to do to win an Electoral College vote is come in on top in one of the three Congressional Districts. The downside is, Nebraska is a red state where Trump won the Republican primary with 61% of the vote and won every county in doing it. Still, a favorite son candidate like Sasse might best Trump if he was on the ballot. Sasse's chances are slim, that's why he's the last one on my list.
Of course, the strategy is still a long shot. Can such a candidate even win a single electoral vote? Can he win enough electoral votes and in the right places to deny both Trump and Clinton the 270 majority in the Electoral College that would make the entire effort worthwhile? Could you rely on the politically spineless House of Representatives to do the right thing if the strategy succeeded? What if Clinton gets indicted, drops out, and is replaced with Joe Biden? Does the strategy still work, or does it now hand the election to Biden? So many places where the strategy could fail. But the United States is in serious trouble. A choice between Trump or Hillary puts this country in serious jeopardy. Even for Libertarians who are supporting Gary Johnson, the most likely outcome this cycle is a Trump or Clinton win with a consolation prize of a larger and invigorated Libertarian Party. A man like Robert Gates has a better chance of making this fantasy strategy work than does Gary Johnson. And if Robert Gates could pull it off, that still leaves open the prospect of a stronger Libertarian Party as well.
OK. That's my dream put to (digital) pen and paper. Bill Kristol: The next move is yours.