For a number of reasons, I have always been disdainful of people who voted for Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. For one thing, I always thought that Bill Clinton was a shamelessly appalling human being completely unfit for the presidency. For another, while I see George H. W. Bush and Robert Dole as flawed politicians, they were still much better alternatives than Clinton, and there was nothing which would disqualify them from high office. Finally, Ross Perot was a complete joke. There was no way that he could have been thought of as prepared or qualified for high office. He was just a wealthy Texan who hated Bush and who could afford what turned out to be a rather expensive vanity project. A vote for Ross Perot was essentially nothing but a protest vote against the GOP, allowing a worthless man to occupy the White House.
This is not to say, however, that people who voted for Ross Perot threw away their votes, which is the charge always made against people who vote third party. Apart from ensuring that the GOP candidate lost the presidential election, voting third party had the following positive affects:
- It kept Bill Clinton from ever securing a majority of the vote. Clinton received only 43% of the vote in 1992, and 49.2% of the vote in 1996. Because Clinton never had a majority of the vote, he could never claim any sort of mandate for his policies. And this is a very important point, as if he had received something along the order of 54% to 56% he could have claimed that people supported his agenda, and he would have succeeded in pushing through much more radical policies than he actually attempted, through executive orders if necessary (as Obama has done).
- Since Ross Perot did not really have a national party behind him, he had few if any coattails. The make-up of the House and Senate stayed virtually the same in 1992 and 1994, with the Democrats controlling both chambers. However, in 1996, the GOP swept to control over both chambers for the first time since 1954, despite losing the presidency. Arguably, if Ross Perot had not run in 1996, the GOP may have won the presidency as well. However, while Ross Perot voters may have cost the GOP the presidency, they in no way hurt the GOP in the House and Senate, and may have even helped. While we can argue all we want as to whether Dole would have been a better president from 1997 to 2001, the fact of the matter is that Clinton was completely hamstrung between those years, and was forced to the table by House Republicans to balance the budget. The fact that Ross Perot supporters voted for Republican down-ticket candidates was the silver lining for the 1996 election.
This serves an important lesson for 2016: A vote for a third-party candidate or even a write-in candidate should not be considered a wasted vote. Unlike 1992 and 1996, it appears that in 2016 neither party’s candidates are even remotely qualified for the presidency. Both would be an unmitigated disaster for the US. Arguably, from a conservative standpoint, Donald Trump would be much worse, however, as he claims to be a conservative, and a Trump presidency would redefine conservatism in such a way that it would destroy the conservative movement in the same way that his candidacy is destroying the GOP. By voting third party in the presidential election, two important things will be accomplished: It will deny whoever wins the election any kind of mandate or legitimacy, and the winner will be hamstrung by a GOP Congress who knows the president doesn’t have a mandate.
This certainly is a much better outcome than an election where Trump wins 52% of the vote while the GOP keeps both chambers of Congress (which means they will roll over completely to whatever Trump wants), or an outcome where Hillary wins 52% of the vote and the GOP loses both chambers. Neither candidate deserves more than 50% of the vote, and our country certainly deserves better.