How Trump Could Hold Republicans Captive Until Next Summer

Friday, December 11, 2015
How Trump Could Hold Republicans Captive Until Next Summer
Donald Trump at a news conference in New York after he signed the pledge to support the Republican nominee in the 2016 general election, Sept. 3, 2015.

Donald Trump is renewing his threats to run as a third-party candidate -- and it looks like he could keep top Republican officials sweating a potential independent bid all the way through next summer.

As backlash grows over Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, he is apparently reconsidering his September pledge not to run as an independent should he lose the GOP nomination.

Trump tweeted a poll citing the support he would garner as an independent. On "Live With Kelly and Michael," he said that he would consider splitting from the Republican Party if he wasn't "treated fairly."

"The people, the Republican Party, have been -- the people -- have been phenomenal," Trump said. "The party -- I'll let you know about that."

But how would an independent run actually work should he decide to mount one? And what are his chances of success?

Chances of Success: Likely Very Slim

History isn't in Trump's favor in terms of a presidential victory. George Washington was the first candidate to run as an Independent, and the only one to ever win. In 1992, Texas billionaire Ross Perot ran as an independent, and was able to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states by mobilizing thousands of volunteers. He made it on to the debate stage, and received approximately 19 percent of the popular vote. His run was deemed the most successful independent one since Teddy Roosevelt's in 1912 - but he got zero electoral college votes.

Nevertheless, many pundits believe that Perot's run took significant support away from George H.W. Bush, allowing Bill Clinton to win the Presidency. Similarly, many think a potential Trump independent candidacy could draw substantial support away from the eventual Republican nominee, giving Hillary Clinton a clear path to the White House over both candidates by a wide margin.

Consequently, Trump's threat forces Republicans to thread the needle between condemning Trump's ideas but also not prompting an independent run. The best example of this comes from RNC Chair Reince Priebus's measured response to Trump's Muslim ban proposal, saying: "I don't agree. We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values."

Logistics and Finances: How to Launch an Independent Run

In order to have their names appear on the ballots across the country in the general election, independent candidates have to obtain a certain number of signatures.

Richard Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News, estimates that an independent candidate would need approximately 579,000 signatures total to get on the ballot in all 50 states. Winger believes obtaining those signatures would cost between $2.5 and $3 million, at approximately $3.50 per signature. And that is before the cost of standard election necessities, such as voter registration drives and advertising.

To make thing more complicated, each state has their own election laws and requirements. For example, in Wisconsin, an independent candidate for president or vice president in 2016 has to obtain 2,000 to 4,000 signatures by Aug. 2, 2016. However, the candidates can't circulate the papers until July 1 -- so they have 1 month to obtain the actual signatures. In Indiana, the deadline comes even earlier: Trump would have to acquire about 27,000 voter signatures by June 30 -- enough to qualify for the general election ballot.

Of course, Trump would need time to build the infrastructure necessary to collect the signatures and launch an independent effort. But with key swing state ballot deadlines like Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia stretching into August, Trump would have the ability to tank the Republican nominee's bid just by registering for a few select ballots.

Still, finances shouldn't be an issue for the billionaire mogul, who repeatedly touts how he is funding his own campaign. With a net worth of around $4 billion and almost universal name recognition, Trump would likely be able to launch a functioning independent campaign at his own expense.

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