Train wrecks don’t happen often in American politics. But there could be one in this presidential election. And if it occurs, it will be big. Consider. The Constitution has a specific provision regarding an Electoral College deadlock. The bottom line is that if no candidate receives a majority — 270 — of the 538 electoral votes, then the next president will be chosen by the House of Representatives, with each state having one vote. It has happened twice in our history — the election of 1800 and then 1824. But given Congress’s current low repute — 9 percent approval rating in one poll — all hell would break loose if the House wound up selecting the next president. This scenario can happen only if there is a viable third-party candidate who wins at least some electoral votes. Most states still decide their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, so the third-party candidate would need to win a state or two, and the election would otherwise need to be close.
Potential third-party candidates with a national following could include Ron Paul (running as a Libertarian), Donald Trump (running under a yet-to-be-determined label) or a bipartisan ticket running under the Americans Elect banner. This last, a well-funded online effort, is now trying to get on the ballot in all 50 states — with nominees to be determined by an online nominating process in late spring.
Americans Elect has gotten some media attention but still faces a significant obstacle in putting together a ticket. Its candidates must agree to have their name on the Americans Elect ballot by naming a running mate from the other party — not an easy sale for the group’s organizers.
The problem is that this virtually rules out anyone who wants to have a future in major party politics. Any major Republican who agrees to run for president on the Americans Elect ticket could be blamed for the defeat of the Republican nominee if he or she either wins some electoral votes or drains enough popular votes to give the Democratic nominee a plurality victory in some states — as Ross Perot did to President George H. W. Bush in 1992.