Issues & Insights

James Clyburn And The Big Third-Party Lie

A few new polls out show former President Donald Trump ahead of current sort-of President Joe Biden.

And ahead rather comfortably, leading nationally overall by enough and leading in five of the six “swing states” that have determined the last two presidential elections.

Good news for him? Yes.

The downside for Trump is that those leads shrink if certain third-party candidates are thrown into the mix.

Without RFK Jr. in the mix, Trump polls well ahead of Biden – add in RFK Jr. and it shifts to a small Biden lead nationally and a “who knows?” in the swing states.

But then add in Cornel West – who recently dropped his Green Party nomination effort and is, like Kennedy, going the independent route – and Biden and Trump are really in jumpball territory.

So then why would Biden’s Democratic South Carolina savior Rep. James Clyburn be railing about the evils of third-party candidates?

Clyburn states that third parties could so confuse the race that Trump in the end benefits and that in and of itself “fundamentally endangers our democracy.”

Whose democracy, Jim? If you wrote “my democracy” that would be accurate, but “our democracy” is not put in danger when more people run for office. It seems Clyburn has no problem with just anybody voting – he pushed the John Lewis Act, which would hamstring states from instituting legitimate voting ID requirements and essentially federalize the election process – but he has a problem with just anybody running.

Anyway, Jim, the addition of West and Kennedy seems to help your guy, so what gives?

“Our democracy” is what gives. Whenever the term is used it is not about “our democracy” but “their democracy.”

The Romans called the Mediterranean Sea ‘Mare Nostra,’ or ‘Our Sea’ to connote power and exclusivity.  The mafia is often referred to by its members as ‘Cosa Nostra,’ or ‘Our Thing,’ again to ensure a protective separateness from everything and everyone else.

Now, the organizations and people fetishizing ‘protect our democracy’ mean it the same way the Romans really did and the mafia really do – ‘their democracy.’ 

‘Democratia Nostra’ indeed.

Clyburn – like the swamp in which he dwells – loves performative democracy but viscerally hates actual democracy, hence the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It is also claimed that third-party candidates stole the election from Al Gore in 2000. That did not happen. True, Ralph Nader and the Palm Beach County Registrar of Voters probably took enough votes from Gore to swing Florida, but that is not stealing. In the first case, that’s someone exercising their right as a member of a free society; in the second, that’s a bureaucrat failing at their job. Neither act is theft, neither act was malicious.

More recently — and more surprisingly from people who regularly bandy about the term “election denier” as a right-wing pejorative – we have the Hillary in 2016 situation.

No matter that a nobody senator trounced her for the Democratic nomination in 2008 and a socialist senator almost did the same in 2016, Hillary’s minions and familiars and jabberscabs still claim she did/would/should have won except for those dastardly deplorables and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. Clyburn even says so: “Jill Stein and Gary Johnson ran third-party campaigns in 2016 that arguably siphoned off enough votes to cost Hillary Clinton the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and with them the presidency.”

The problem is that that is flat, just do the simple math, dead wrong. A convenient lie, but a lie nonetheless.

If you remove both Stein and the Libertarian Johnson from the mix, Trump not only still wins, he most likely picks up four more states: Nevada, Maine, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.

Clyburn’s claim would have the inkling of a possibility of being almost true if he had referenced Stein only and if every single vote she got went to Hilary. Take Stein out in Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Hillary gets to 271 electoral votes if, as Clyburn seems to assume – that every Stein vote would have gone to Hillary.

And I mean every – to take Pennsylvania, for example, Hilary would have needed nearly 90% of Stein’s votes to go to her.

Get a majority? Sure, that’s likely. But to claim that every Green voter loved Hilary enough – and had no qualms about anything else she ever did ever – to show up and vote for her is ludicrous.

And, again, if you take both Stein and Johnson out, as Clyburn posits, then Trump wins four more states if even only half of the Libertarians pulled his lever.

And always remember that Hillary’s entire popular vote victory came from the margin she built up in California – she beat Trump there by 4.2 million votes but lost the rest of the country by 1.3 million votes.

In 2020, the same scenario occurs. Drop the Libertarian and Green candidates, split their votes accordingly, and Trump picks up Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. That would have put the electoral vote count at 269 to 269, pushing the election into the House of Representatives where the Republicans – by controlling more state delegations – make Trump president.

As for Biden’s popular vote victory, 6 million of his 7 million vote margin came from, again, California. Toss is Maryland for another million more votes for Biden, and that’s more than the total margin. In other words, in the rest of the country, Trump won.

So, in the end, what do these numbers mean, and who is helped and/or hurt by third-party candidates?

In mandated two races – say the country had a runoff rule if no one got more than 50% in the first go-round – Libertarian voters – if they voted – would gravitate towards Trump just as Green voters (less than half of the Libertarian voters) – if they voted – would gravitate towards Biden.

But what of West and Kennedy?

West voters would gravitate towards Biden. Put another way, West poses a serious threat to the Biden candidacy on his own. If he is able to hold the 4% or 6% of the vote he is currently getting in the polls, that will hurt Biden because it will come from both the black community and the hyper-uber-woke kids (FYI, West is pro-, um, Palestinian) that he needs.

And no Trump voter is going to vote for West. Ever.

Kennedy poses a more complicated issue. His green bona fides attract the left and his anti-deep state talk attracts the right. But it will be the pandemic that will drive Kennedy’s vote and anger over that multi-generational government-ordered atrocity cuts against both Trump and Biden.

Biden for continuing and doubling down on the destruction of the economy and personal liberties, Trump for doing it in the first place.

There are hordes of Trump voters that are still furious about his pandemic decision-making, having both their faith and trust in him broken. Broken beyond repair? That will be a day of the election conundrum.

In other words, Kennedy has a somewhat better chance at attracting squirrelly Trump voters than wishy-washy Biden supporters.

Then throw in the Green candidate – with West out it looks like it will be Stein again – and the Libertarian guy – only men are standing for the nomination so far – and both Trump and Biden are whittled away even more.

And then throw in some sort of “moderate/pragmatist/get the politics out of government” candidate like soon-to-be-retiring West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and/or the “No Labels” people or whatever and the muddle increases even more.

Clearly, there are many other dynamics at play – the wars, the economy, whether or not Trump is in jail or whatever, the power of the censorship-industrial complex, the schemes of the deep state, and on and on will all play roles in the coming year or so.

So what will happen in 51 and a half weeks? I don’t know, but whatever happens, I do know I’ll need a drink for it.

Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore, Calif., and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at You can read more of his work at his Substack page.

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