The recent WikiLeaks revelation that Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta had a secret list of Republicans that worried him most in 2015—Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal—has inspired chatter about what might have been if Donald Trump were not the Republican nominee.
In this uniquely polarizing election, many from across the ideological spectrum are rejecting both Clinton and Trump and opting instead to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein. Johnson has generally polled in high single or low double digits and Stein has hovered around the 2-4 percent mark. Virtually every poll indicates that Johnson is taking far more voters away from Clinton than he is Trump. The same is true of Stein, who would more obviously take from Clinton.
In other words, third party voters are overwhelmingly hurting Hillary Clinton more than Donald Trump. Clinton’s numbers have improved recently in important swing states. The math tells us that without Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in this race, Clinton could potentially have a 20-something point lead right now instead of 14. A 14-point lead alone is nothing to sneeze it.
Frustrated Trump supporters have been known to lash out at Johnson supporters in particular—it’s hard to imagine many potential Republican voters getting behind the Green Party—for not lining up behind the GOP nominee and thus potentially costing Republicans the presidential election.
But it’s not third party voters who might throw the election to Hillary.
It’s every Republican Primary voter who thought Trump would be a better choice to take on Clinton than any of the other available candidates, most of whom might be far more competitive right now. With the exception of my first choice Rand Paul, I’m not saying I would have necessarily preferred most of the other candidates to Trump. Even Trump’s uniquely bad anti-establishmentarianism doesn’t make the establishment of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio more attractive. In fact, I was clear in February about preferring even Trump to Rubio.
But the problem is that, at least currently, Trump doesn’t have enough voters to deliver a victory, period. Again, if Johnson and Stein voters went with either major party candidate, this would benefit Clinton. If they refuse to vote Trump, Trump supporters should hope these voters stick with third party candidates because that helps the Republican.
If Hillary Clinton becomes the next president of the United States, there will be lots of finger pointing and blame cast about among Republicans, and no doubt some of that criticism will be lobbed at third party supporters. This always happens—Ross Perot hurting Georg H.W. Bush in 1992, Ralph Nader helping George W. Bush in 2000—but in this election it’s simply not accurate.
If a second President Clinton becomes a reality, Trump supporters will have only themselves to blame.
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.