Lou Dobbs: Perot of 2012?

Posted on November 25, 2009

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After leaving CNN following a fairly successful run as a political commentator, Lou Dobbs has been publicly flirting with the idea of running for public office. Now a new Rasmussen poll states the obvious and says a Presidential bid would siphon off up to 14% of the Republican vote, enough to split the electorate and ensure reelection for President Obama no matter what his popularity has become three years from now.

There’s no doubt that we’re still way early when it comes to handicapping 2012, but there’s little doubt that any center-right candidate could split the opposition vote, much in the same way Ross Perot did in 1992, garnering 18.9% of the vote and allowing Bill Clinton to win with just 43% of the popular vote. Running again in 1996, Perot received 8% of the popular vote, not as significant a vote siphon to Bob Dole (who was himself a fairly weak candidate to field against an incumbent), but still the best showing by a third-party candidate in the last twenty years. In both elections, however, the impact was the same: voters who supported Perot ended up with a winner that was ideologically opposite most of their own positions.

But does the Perot experience now limit a third-party effect? Allahpundit made the point on Monday that in 2012 Republicans would most likely be so desperate to unseat Obama that all but the most extremely alienated would pull the lever for whomever the GOP candidate will be. Democrats did the same thing between 2000 and 2004 when they gave Ralph Nader 2.7% of a close vote, essentially helping George W. Bush, and got more unified the next go-around and gave him only 0.38% of the vote.

I never watched Lou Dobbs that much, and I couldn’t give you much in the way of an opinion of him. I’m sure he’s smart enough to realize he has no shot at winning anything nationally in 2012, which is probably why his spokesman is saying he’ll try to win Robert Menendez’s Senate seat instead. His chances there are probably better, though I’m not yet sure he could even win there. I’ll also say that I’m surprised how closely all the Republican challengers fare against Obama in a two-person match-up, including, yes, the “unelectable” woman who’s supposedly too stupid and too extreme to ever garner wide support on her own, Sarah Palin.

Overall, though, third-party candidates should always evaluated seriously on all counts including their ability to win in a general election. More often than not, third-party candidacies are vanity trips for the office-seeker that leave their supporters feeling momentarily good about their ideological voting purity but leave them electorally defeated. Does that mean we should never consider third-party candidates? Of course not, but we should always be realistic about their chances and what impact they have on the larger two-person race above them.

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Posted in: News, Politics