Guest Opinion: Alternatives to Trump and Clinton
In the best of all possible worlds, the U.S. presidential election would feature a pair of candidates who don’t engage in juvenile insults or racially charged rhetoric, don’t provoke the Federal Bureau of Investigation to offer proof of serial dishonesty and have no history of bankruptcy or complicity in White House scandals. Ideally, these two nominees would distinguish themselves with their integrity, coherent policy views and ability to address important issues in fresh, substantive and truthful ways.
Millions of Americans have been queasy contemplating the choice of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. You may think voters are never happy with their options — was anyone thrilled by John Kerry vs. George W. Bush in 2004? — but this year is notably worse than the norm. The sorry arc of Trump’s bloviation, and now the FBI’s detailed demolition of Clinton’s repeated untruths about her recklessness with classified U.S. information, only compound the plight of many American voters.
“Negative views of Mrs. Clinton are at least 12 percentage points higher than those of any of the four Democratic nominees since 1992,” reported The Wall Street Journal about recent poll results. “Negative views of Mr. Trump are at least 14 points worse than those of any of the last five GOP nominees.” That was before FBI Director James Comey called Clinton’s behavior “extremely careless” and Trump offered peculiar praise to Saddam Hussein as a prolific slayer of terrorists. (Trump didn’t mention that Hussein also was adept at slaying his own people.)
In short, our normally polarized politics are more polarized than ever. Only 1 in 6 white males had a positive opinion of Clinton, while only 1 in 10 African-Americans looked favorably on Trump. Much of the support each candidate has is really withering contempt for the other.
Well, American voter, things are not as bad as you may think. You have not one respectable alternative to these candidates but two. They are Gary Johnson, nominated in June by the Libertarian Party, and Jill Stein, who is expected to be chosen at the Green Party national convention next month. Thanks partly to the major party nominees, these two (who won the same nominations four years ago) are gaining the kind of attention that minor party candidates rarely get. Though neither is likely to be on the ballot in all 50 states, they will be options for the vast majority of voters.
RealClearPolitics reports that in recent polls featuring all four candidates, Johnson averages 7 percent of the national vote and Stein 4 percent. Those are impressive numbers, given that in 2012, neither broke the 1 percent threshold. It’s not hard to imagine them rising this fall as Trump and Clinton savage each other’s records.
Stein, a Massachusetts physician, offers herself as the logical choice for supporters of Bernie Sanders, who shares her progressive views on many issues — single-payer health insurance, green energy, raising taxes, campaign finance regulation and more. Back in April, she went so far as to invite the Vermont senator to work with the Green Party to “ensure the revolution for people, planet and peace will prevail.”
Republicans dismayed that Trump wouldn’t promote free trade, cut federal spending, reform immigration or curb entitlements will be cheered by Johnson’s platform. A former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, he compiled a record to back up his promises. With a Democratic legislature, the conservative National Review raved, “Johnson’s main impact was in vetoing an astonishing 739 bills over his eight years in office.”
The existing two-party system has been the mainstay of American politics for a century and a half. But the discontent felt this year among Democrats as well as Republicans suggests there is an opportunity for the Greens and the Libertarians to establish themselves in the national consciousness in a lasting way.
Can either win? Not this time. But that’s no reason Americans disgusted with the major party choices have to settle on either. It’s not “wasting your vote,” as the old bromide says, to cast a ballot for a long-shot candidate because he or she offers something valuable that mainstream candidates don’t. Attracting voters is how small parties get bigger.
A strong showing by Stein, Johnson or both might not transform America’s political landscape. But it could push a reassessment of old policies that have acquired immunity from reform. It could put provocative new ideas on the national agenda.
It also could force the major parties, which have disappointed voters so badly this year, to do better in 2020 and beyond. If so, Democrats and Republicans might thank Stein and Johnson for running.