Do you think you have only two choices for President in each election? Usually there are other candidates but you may not know who they are. Anyone without an R or D after their name is lumped into the third party or unaffiliated category. If you think the third party phenomenon is a recent development you’d be wrong, as third party candidates date back as far as 1832, when William Wirt ran on the Anti-Masonic Party. It must have been a tough experience as Wirt was dead two year later.
Since then, every Presidential election has included a Prohibition, Communist, Libertarian, Socialist, Green or other party on the ballot. Others are unaffiliated or listed as an Independent. Such notables as Teddy Roosevelt, George Wallace, Benjamin Spock, Ralph Nader, Lester Maddox, Eldridge Cleaver, Dick Gregory, Ron Paul, Douglas MacArthur, Strom Thurmond, and even Roseanne Barr have been on the ballot in some states. Other than T-Rex, perhaps the most famous third party candidate is probably Ross Perot, who ran in 1992 as an unaffiliated candidate and 1996 as an Independent, and even garnered 18.9 percent of the popular vote in 1992. Did Perot significantly influence the election of Bill Clinton to the White House? Most no D or R candidates have little or no impact on a Presidential election but a few probably have.
Unaffiliated or third party candidates face an uphill battle, even in the information age. Raising money is tough and without money you can’t create a credible image or establish a public beachhead. Even former President Teddy Roosevelt, trying to challenge his successor, failed to win his party’s nomination and formed his own party in 1912, the Bull Moose Party. Interestingly, he beat the sitting President in both the popular and electoral votes, but lost out to Woodrow Wilson.
George Wallace, elected several times as Governor of Alabama, ran four times for President, three as a Democrat and once on the American Independent Party ticket. Wallace received 13.5 percent of the popular vote and 45 electoral votes in the 1968 election. Wallace’s running mate was retired General Curtis LeMay, who ran the bombing campaign of Japan during World War II and a military advisor to JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. George Wallace and Curtis LeMay make interesting reading if you have the time. George Wallace was also known for being a law and order candidate, perhaps even more wound-up about it than Richard Nixon. Perhaps tops on his list of things he hated, Wallace hated hippies. Not just disliked hippies; he hated them with a passion. I’ll blog about George Wallace in the future; he’s quite a trip. Sorry, that might sound like hippy talk.
The 1968 election cycle was the first that I recall of a third party or unaffiliated candidate. Wallace knew how to generate media attention in a Presidential race that saw the sitting President decline to run for reelection and the leading Democratic candidate felled by an assassin. How could any Presidential campaign resemble the drama and tragedy of 1968? Besides Wallace, the race also included Eldridge Cleaver, Dick Gregory and comedienne Pat Paulsen, known at the time as a member of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour television show. Paulsen was much funnier than Nixon, Humphrey or even George Wallace.
Wallace, a colorful and dynamic candidate, is perhaps best known for standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama in defiance to federal orders to admit African-Americans to the university. During the 1972 campaign he was wounded by a would-be assassin in a shooting that would leave him permanently paralyzed, but did not end his political career or his attempts to become President.
Third parties allowed Wallace, and contemporaries Strom Thurmond (U.S. Senator) and Lester Maddox (Governor of Georgia) a platform as proponents of racial segregation. Candidates for President have included socialists, communists, environmentalists, prohibitionists, peaceniks and comedians.
Besides perennial Presidential candidate Wallace, other notables such as Eugene McCarthy, Ross Perot, Lyndon LaRouche, Ralph Nader ran multiple times on various party tickets. Will there be a third party candidate in 2016 from those who are seeking either the D or R nomination? That’s to be seen.
The campaign of 1980 was interesting one, at least more so to me. I was a senior at the University of Kansas, and in return for leaving the university they would bestow an undergraduate degree to me. Fair trade. As a political science major, I naturally had an interest in the election process. That was the campaign that Ted Kennedy finally entered the race, and against a sitting President in his own party. Ted had Kennedy sized balls. Jimmy Carter did not cotton to Ted’s challenge and was quoted as saying “I’ll kick his ass.” Jimmy had other challenges too, like hostages in Iran, but fortunately for him, Ted Kennedy’s campaign self-destructed with that infamous television interview with Roger Mudd. That interview essentially derailed Kennedy’s front-running campaign and let Jimmy focus on other problems.
The Republican field consisted of Ronald Reagan, Howard Baker, George Bush, Bob Dole, John Connally and Illinois Congressman John Anderson. Interesting fact, the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party was David Koch, one of the influential billionaire Koch brothers. Anderson, a moderate Republican (yes there was such a thing), was a ten-term Congressman who began his career as a very conservative but gradually his views began to reflect the changing times and he became more moderate as his Republican Party shifted to the right. Formally pulling out of the Republican race in April, Anderson stayed in the race as an Independent. In a September Presidential debate, Carter refused to appear because Anderson was allowed to be part of the debate. Anderson also qualified for federal campaign funds which helped prop up his campaign. Anderson was seen by many as a centralist candidate, between Reagan on the right and Carter on the left. Anderson had great appeal to many, including college students like me, but as the election neared, voters aligned with wither Reagan or Carter, causing Anderson’s support to evaporate. He did pull nearly 7 percent of the popular vote.
For me, I appreciated having a choice of more than two candidates. I voted for John Anderson and was proud of it, even as many people said that I wasted my vote. If I voted for the candidate that I believed it, how could my vote be wasted? Republicans and Democrats own the political process. Look no further than Kansas, a state dominated by Republicans but the Republican-controlled State Legislature felt it necessary to move local elections from April to November, in order to politicize local city, county and school board elections that have typically been non-partisan. What does this have to do with third party Presidential candidates? Not much, just a comment about choice and letting voters have a pick from varied viewpoints. What’s more American than that?