Will we see a presidential spoiler in November?
By Evan Lips | August 26, 2016, 18:08 EST
Could the Libertarian Party ticket of Gary Johnson and the Bay State’s own William Weld effectively doom GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s chances in November?
Pundits have hemmed and hawed at this question, drawing comparisons to the Green Party’s 2000 presidential ticket of Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke. The Nader-LaDuke tandem, as has been noted, reeled in 97,488 votes in Florida — a state which effectively swung the 2000 presidential election and a state where Republican George W. Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore by a scant 537 votes.
In August of 2000, national polls had Nader-LaDuke pegged at 4 percent — fast-forward to 2016, and Johnson-Weld is holding steady at about 9 percent.
Speaking of Florida — Johnson Weld, according to a state poll released by Mason-Dixon, is sitting at 6 percent.
In order to qualify for the upcoming presidential debates, Johnson will have to find a way within the next several weeks to reach 15 percent nationally, a tall order.
The last third-party candidate to successfully land a seat in a presidential debate was Ross Perot in 1992, whose late-summer polling average hovered around 20 percent. His performance in the debates, however, did not boost his November vote totals, as Perot managed to pivot backwards, netting 19 percent of the popular vote.
The question in 2016 is not whether Johnson-Weld can prevail, but whether the duo can inflict enough influence to wrangle enough voters to affect the November tilt between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Asked in July during an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, whether he worries about being perceived as a spoiler, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico did not mince words.
“I will lose no sleep if that is the label given to me, and I will reiterate; this is a party that needs crashing,” he said.
Weld, 71, the former two-term Republican Massachusetts governor, likewise chimed in, “what’s to spoil?”
It’s a question that current Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, a Lexington resident, has also addressed. Stein, who openly worked to woo frustrated Bernie Sanders supporters outside the Democratic National Convention in July, is polling nationally at an average of 3.5 percent.
Stein too is dismissing the spoiler argument:
Spoiler argument leaves out many D’s voted for greater evil in ’00. In ’08 the lesser evil succeeded & still gave us much of what we feared.
— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) May 25, 2016
In his column Wednesday, The Hill’s Brent Budowsky had no problem slapping the spoiler tag on Stein.
“It is almost certain that the vanity candidacy of Ralph Nader in 2000 elected George W. Bush president,” Budowsky wrote. “Heaven help America and the world if a similar result occurs in 2016!”
But will the Johnson-Weld ticket effectively cancel out such a result?
Both ran in 2012, but failed to affect President Barack Obama’s victory over Republican Mitt Romney.
This year, however, could be different.
As Colleen Shalby of the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, overall satisfaction with the two major party candidates has hit its lowest point in 20 years, according to the Pew Research Center.
Johnson himself still has visions of coming from behind and winning, but acknowledged he has no shot if he can’t land on the national stage with a primetime appearance at the first presidential debate scheduled for Sept. 26.
He said as much in a June interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“You know, Chuck, I would not be doing this if there weren’t the opportunity to win,” Johnson said at the time. “But the only opportunity that I have of winning is to be in the presidential debates.”