Gaming Out a Trump Independent Campaign

We more than occasionally wave our hands at the possibility of Trump going independent if, say, he goes into the convention with a big lead (but less than the 1237 delegates needed to clinch), and is denied the nomination in a contested convention.

But we haven’t gotten into details like: is it too late to mount an independent run? If not, when does it become too late? What are the deadlines and requirements? What states would Trump want or need to run in, if he chose not to run in all 50 states?

Hence this thread.

Ballotpedia would be a good place to start - they’ve got a table of the filing deadlines and requirements for independent candidates in the 50 states + DC.

Short version with respect to deadlines is that most states’ deadlines are in August.

Texas and North Carolina are really early (May 9 and June 9, both requiring ~80K-90K signatures) so they’d be out unless Trump jumps ship well before the end of the primary season. (ETA: and Texas’ deadline is likely irrelevant due to a sore-loser law, see below.) Three more states’ deadlines are at the end of June, another half-dozen in early to mid July, another three in late July, then 32 states at various times in August, and 5 in early September, with the last deadlines falling on September 9.

Now, signatures: nine states require 1000 or fewer signatures. Another 20 states require 5000 or fewer signatures. Another 7 states, fewer than 10,000. Then 7 states requiring between 15K and 30K signatures, another 4 requiring between 36K and 50K signatures, and finally 4 states (TX, NC, FL, and CA) requiring between 79K and 180K signatures.

Sore loser laws: according to Ballotpedia, they largely don’t apply to Presidential campaigns, with Texas’ and South Dakota’s laws being the only ones that apparently do.

Much more at the link, of course.

The other thing to consider is, where would Trump want to campaign? If the GOP engages in an organized effort to deny him the nomination, despite his having won way more delegates than anyone else, my assumption is that he’d want to wreak particular havoc on the Republicans.

So if I were Trump’s campaign manager, I’d be focusing on:

  1. Swing states, and
  2. States that would become swing states if someone pulled 5-10% of the vote away from the GOP candidate.

I’d also keep in mind that Trump’s appeal seems to wane considerably the further west one goes.

So in the first category, the usual suspects: NH, VA, OH, WI, IA, maybe FL depending on whether it’s feasible to get on the ballot. And probably MI and PA, which aren’t really swing states, but the GOP keeps trying to turn them. And CO, NV, NM to some extent.

And in the second, IN, MO, GA. NC would be a great target, but it would likely have to be a write-in campaign due to its early filing deadline and heavy signature requirements.

Very interesting. It seems like the states where it’s easy to get on the ballot are the smaller ones. I checked it out, and 30 states plus DC have both signature requirements of 10,000 or less AND deadlines August 1 or later, but the largest of those states, by a wide margin, is Ohio.

Interestingly, Romney carried 15 of those states, but every one of them by ten points or better, so it woud take more than a token independent effort to turn those states blue.

Let’s assume that the Democratic vote will be 2% less in each State than it was in 2012. Obviously, any more optimistic assumption would mean the Democrats are going to win anyway, so the point of how much Trump might help them is moot.

That would mean the Pubbies would flip CO, VA, FL, and OH, giving them 264 electoral votes to the Democrat’s 254. PA, which voted exactly 52.0% for Obama, would be the crucial swing state.

If we assume that the net effect of a Trump win would be to take 5% of the GOP vote away, which seems ridiculously low to me, that would mean the Democrats would net a gain of three points in each State, giving them every state Obama won plus NC for a comfortable 347-191 margin. If they did just a little bit better than that, they could take SC, GA and MO for a 382-156 romp.

So it seems clear that Trump would only need to draw a small percentage of the vote away from the GOP to make the election unwinnable for them. I actually think the opposite scenario is more likely, with Trump winning the nomination and Romney or someone of that ilk playing spoiler. Either way, I think the chance of a GOP schism is pretty good this year, and am rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation.

Yeah, Trump won’t get on Texas at all but that’s fine, he can likely get on 30-40ish if he really worked at it, but I doubt he’d even need to do so. It only takes a couple of states to make it impossible for the GOP to win in the electoral college. Plus, he draws media almost effortlessly. I can bet that almost all of his media appearances would involve colorful attacks on the Republican nominee, he could almost derail the Republicans just by constantly staying on TV attacking the nominee without even running as an independent. But to really do it he’d need to be on some ballots because without that veneer of credibility I think his ability to sap votes away is diminished.

So he could get on the ballots of a large chunk of states, and then he could also make half-hearted claims that you can “write him in” several others (several of the states he probably wouldn’t get on the ballot for he could probably qualify as a write in candidate.)

Realistically if Trump is a few votes shy of the nomination I’m not sure the best move by the GOP is blocking his nomination. I think they give him the nomination but then the establishment comes out and firmly denounces Trump and refuses to endorse him. Then they name a protest candidate to run as an establishment conservative against Trump as a third party candidate. It would stage an ideological war for the Republican party and while it would guarantee a Democratic Presidency if/when Trump gets to the position to be the Republican nominee such vast damage will have been inflicted on the party that it doesn’t make sense to try and be conservative about dealing with it at that point.

There is probably a third party on all the ballots that would take Trump if he asked for it.

How many states have “sore loser” laws? Those are laws that prevent a candidate from appearing on the ballot as an independent in a state if he/she has already identified him/herself with another party in the present election cycle.

It was pointed out in another thread that Ohio is one of them, and the state attorney-general, himself a Republican, has already come out to say Trump could not appear on the ballot in Ohio this November as anything other than the Republican candidate. If Trump wants to appear as an independent or third-party candidate, he’ll have to wait until 2020.

Not enough to matter, most states with sore loser laws don’t apply said law to Presidential elections. Texas is one of the notable exceptions–but Texas also has such an early filing deadline that Trump wouldn’t be able to get onto the ballot in Texas after the convention anyway.

Here is a list of States that have set precedent that their state sore loser law doesn’t apply to Presidential elections.

The only parties that have enough ballot access to possibly win a majority in the Electoral College are the Greens and the Libertarians. Which would want him?

If they’re going to have such a law, it ought to be applied to presidential elections too.