- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2015

NEWS ANALYSIS:

Donald Trump has good reason to keep a third-party bullet in his bandolier.

Firing that round would probably, but not certainly, deny victory to Republicans next year under any plausible scenario. It’s the uncertainty that has Republican Party loyalists wringing their hands, pollsters and strategists say.

It’s also why Republicans are more or less respecting his demand to be treated fairly — or else.

“You bet Republicans should want Mr. Trump to remain a GOP in the race,” said Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway. “If he runs as an independent, conventional wisdom is that he will guarantee Hillary Clinton wins.

“But that overlooks the important fact that the Democratic establishment has its own Trump in a sense in the person of Bernie Sanders,” Ms. Conway said. “So the Democratic nomination may be up for grabs. If a lot of populist Democrats think Sanders is too far left either for their taste or to win a general election or both, some may say why go back to Hillary? Why not take a look at Trump?”

What’s unlikely for several reasons is that Mr. Trump will run as an independent, unaffiliated with any party, as Ross Perot did in 1992, or as a third-party nominee as Pat Buchanan did in his 2000 Reform Party run.

For one thing, it would make little sense to bolt the Republican Party so long as he remains at the top of the heap, no matter how the party treats him, said Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos. After all, winning is the ultimate revenge in politics as well as in business.

If Mr. Trump steadily declines in the polls because his proposed solutions backfire with conservatives or voters tire of his style, it still would make little sense to go independent, Mr. Paleologos said. “Chances are he would wind up embarrassing himself more than the GOP.”

Getting on all 50 states’ ballots is an expensive challenge for most candidates. For the billionaire, not so much, said Ballot Access News Publisher Richard Winger.

“He would have to decide probably by May 2016 to go independent or third party in order to hire the right people to get him on 50 state ballots. Four states have a June ballot-access deadline, and the deadlines for the rest are in July, August and September,” said Mr. Winger, an Election Law Journal editorial board member.

Mr. Winger said two key states, Ohio and Texas, have “sore loser” prohibitions against candidates who run as Republicans or Democrats, then go independent in the middle of the race.

“But there are several possible ways around these ‘sore loser’ obstacles,” Mr. Winger said.

Right now, Mr. Trump is universally acknowledged as the Republican front-runner, with a media appeal unseen in years.

Cable news networks instantly turn to “breaking news” the second he speaks into a microphone.

Republican talking heads tend to say “Mr. Trump,” employing an honorific they tend to drop for every other presidential candidate.

Why? Again, it’s the uncertainty over that threat of a bolt from the Republican Party.

“As an independent like Ross Perot, who won two of three debates in 1992, Trump could do well but more probably would hurt the GOP nominee,” said Mr. Paleologos.

Mr. Paleologos also noted that a number of studies have concluded that Mr. Perot took more from the Democrat and winner, Bill Clinton, than from George H.W. Bush, the Republican incumbent.

Mr. Perot, who won 19.7 million votes, ran as an independent unaffiliated with even a third party, making it easier for him to attract disaffected members of both major parties.

Fewer discontented Democrats and Republicans are likely to vote for a Republican turned independent than a candidate who broke with neither party.

Mr. Trump leads his 16 rivals in every national and early-states poll when likely Republican primary and caucus voters are asked about their first choice for nominee.

What’s particularly good news for him, and fraying the nerves of Republicans who fear doing something to make him leave the party, is that with almost all polls showing voters care most about the economy, a plurality of 37 percent of likely Republican caucus voters in Iowa said the billionaire businessman would manage the economy better than anyone else, CNN’s latest poll found.

In that sense, political observers say, it’s no accident that Carly Fiorina placed second when it came to the ability to manage the economy, ringing up 10 percent in the same poll.

After all, she too has had years of experience managing technology giant Hewlett-Packard.

The two business-wise candidates have been exchanging vituperations reminiscent of the “voodoo economics” pejoration that George H.W. Bush hurled at Ronald Reagan in the 1980 primary contest that ended with Mr. Reagan naming Mr. Bush as his running mate. Winning is what matters.

Barring what experienced campaign operatives see as a perfectly conceivable Trump flame-out and Fiorina crowning next summer in Cleveland, many Republicans are thinking that a Trump-Fiorina ticket is more likely — and more desirable — than a Trump departure from the party.

Ralph Z. Hallow is a Washington Times political correspondent who has covered presidential politics for more than 30 years.

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