Run not one but three candidates? It worked for the Whigs in 1836. Maybe it’s time to do it again.
Unlikely as it may be as an actual solution this year, history tells us there is indeed another possibility for winning the general as a party and managing to dump Trump. The strategy involves running not one, but three candidates—this year, say Trump, Cruz and Kasich—in the general election in November.
It’s farfetched, but it’s a scenario that is allowed by the Constitution, and in theory could be done with a tweak to the party’s bylaws. The goal is to block the Democratic nominee from winning an electoral majority by running the Republican candidate in each state most able to win there. If the Democratic candidate were held short of 270 electoral votes, the outright majority, then the House of Representatives would be asked to choose the president from the top three vote-getters, regardless of what party they are from. If the House stays under GOP control, it would almost certainly select a Republican as president.
Historically, it has been tried: The Whigs ran three candidates against Democrat Martin Van Buren in 1836—and although the scheme ultimately failed to secure an electoral majority, it saved the party, at least for two more decades. By embracing their regional differences and insisting that the Congress have a hand in selecting the president, the Whigs united around two core principles: fear of a dominant executive branch (which took power away from Congress) and a preference for localism over nationalism. Coincidentally, these are also two principles held dear by the many disparate branches of the modern conservative movement.
It failed in 1836—Van Buren did narrowly win a majority of electoral votes—because just about every star has to be aligned for that long-shot strategy to work. But, as an interesting thought experiment: Could it work? In our hypothetical, we go back to that distant time of two weeks ago, when establishment Republicans still kind of recognized their party with Cruz, Kasich and Trump still in the mix. Could running Trump in the states where he has a better chance of beating Clinton than Cruz, running Cruz in the states where he has a better chance of beating Clinton than Trump, and running Kasich in Ohio (where Cruz and Trump lose to Clinton) be a winning maneuver?
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