Trump has officially started his re-election campaign. Democrats have already flooded into the field to stop him, with more announcing every week. The politically minded are watching as all of them throw crazy statements around like they were confetti at a New Year’s celebration.
That’s because they’re savvy.
Right now, the average person isn’t paying attention to politics beyond the daily headlines. This is the time for candidates to gather the faithful to their sides, a combination of the party activists and the eager, thoughtless followers in the respective bases.
By doing so, they guarantee donors will provide enough cash for the long campaign ahead and they boost their name recognition. They’re not worried about insane statements they might make, because by the time the general comes around the focus will be on fearmongering and keeping the other side so vilified that any insanity on their part will be dismissed as simply “the things one says to get the nomination.”
This provides an opportunity, for those who would take it.
There are three great obstacles to any third-party or independent campaign:
First is cash; campaigns cost money. The largest U.S. parties outside of the Democrats and Republicans are Libertarian and Green. Green tends to attract socialists, whose true believers aren’t famed for having money. There are many wealthy Libertarians, but their philosophy tends to be at odds with donating for political campaigns. Luckily for both of them, and for independent candidates or smaller parties, it costs next to nothing to create ads that can be transmitted across social media platforms. Gary Johnson’s campaign had a measure of success last cycle for that exact reason, before he repeatedly undermined himself in interviews.
Second is name recognition. People don’t want to vote for someone they don’t know. This has historically been tied to the first obstacle, but it’s not identical. One way or another, however, people need to know a candidate, their general history and their major positions before they’re willing to vote for them. In a media dominated by Democrat and Republican, that can be difficult.
Third is the “binary” argument. The fear is that, because of the built-in base votes, a third party or independent cannot win. Too many people, fearful of the D/R opposition, will line up to stop them with the perceived “only choice”, rendering any third party nothing but a vote-splitter.
All of this, sadly, is true. There is virtually no chance for a third party or independent candidate…. if they don’t recognize the new reality.
The “outsider” candidates continue to operate under the old rules. They begin campaigning earnestly toward the Summer of the election year. In the time that remains, they are fighting against people with huge war chests, trying to claw out a piece of the media attention and fighting the “binary choice” argument.
The two main parties are starting earlier. The independents need to do so, as well.
This is the time when the Democrats and Republicans are playing to the most rabid believers in their base. It is thus the time when they are saying the most irrational things. This is the time to attack them.
When people argue about “splitting” and “binary option”, the simple fact is that the election is almost two years away. That’s plenty of time to generate momentum or decide if a campaign is a failure. Making their voices heard now will present them as an actual alternative, letting people examine them as an option rather than simply as a protest vote. They need to be able to present a candidacy which is substantially superior to those being offered by the two main parties. When the R/D candidates have skewed toward the middle for the general, that’s going to be difficult. When they’re playing toward their crazies, it’s easy.
If name recognition is the concern, a series of viral ads remains as cheap to produce and disseminate today as it was two years ago, when Facebook was flooded by things like the Gary Johnson “Batman” ad… something his supporters made and distributed for free.
If anyone wants to make a serious run at the Presidency, from the Libertarians or the Greens all the way down to a former Starbucks CEO, they need to step up and begin now.