A third-party or independent campaign for president in the United States is virtually a mathematical impossibility but Dr. Cornel West began his implausible quest for the White House as a prospective nominee of the People’s Party before switching to the Green Party, which had ballot access in nearly 20 states across the country.
West, who was a surrogate for the progressive Democratic presidential campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders, has now announced that his 2024 bid for the presidency will be independent of any party, which makes his quixotic candidacy nearly impossible.
“I want to reintroduce America to the best of itself – the dignity, courage, and creativity of precious everyday people,” West declared on a website affiliated with the People’s Party, a largely dysfunctional group that grew out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, but within two weeks he ditched that group in favor of the Green Party.
West, a philosopher, academic, and political activist, announced his campaign in the 2024 presidential elections as a People’s Party candidate on June 5, 2023, and then quit that group to join the Green Party on June 14.
The two minor parties are left-wing alternatives to the Democratic Party, which has largely been subjected to a hostile takeover by Wall Street since the late 1980s when Third Way advocates exchanged liberal ideology for corporate campaign financial support.
He is a former professor of philosophy at Harvard University and professor emeritus at Princeton University. He is currently the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary.
In his latest announcement video, West, 70, claims that he cares more about voters and their quality of life than other political parties but his proposed road to the White House is a dead end that suggests in spite of his gleaming academic credentials, the candidate knows nothing about American politics.
“A third-party or independent campaign for president in the United States is virtually a mathematical impossibility because a candidate who cannot win the 20 million votes that would assure a nomination by one of the two major party organizations could not earn the 60 to 80 million votes necessary to prevail in the Electoral College,” explained political strategist James J Devine.
“The presidential race is not a national election, but 50 individual state elections and the complexity of the electoral math can be pretty confusing,” said Devine. “The United States has a two-party system, so the two major parties — Democrats and Republicans — dominate the political landscape with more money, media attention, and existing organizational support structures.”
Each state has a number of electors equal to its congressional representation in the House and Senate, with the District of Columbia having the number it would have if it were a state.
To be elected, one must capture 270 votes in the Electoral College and, if no candidate receives a majority there, the House of Representatives makes the choice in an arrangement with each state getting one vote determined by members of its delegation.
Currently, all electors cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in their respective states, except in Maine and Nebraska, where some electors cast votes for the winner of the state popular vote and some cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in congressional districts.
The history of American presidential politics is littered with failed third-party attempts but some have had a significant impact on the outcome of the election.
Ross Perot’s third-party run in the 1992 election was a contributing factor in the defeat of former Republican President George H.W. Bush by Democrat Bill Clinton, as the independent siphoned off more Republicans than Democrats in the nearly 20 million votes he received.
In 2000, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore would have probably beaten Republican George W. Bush if Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had not appeared on the ballot in crucial states, including Florida, where the contest was decided by a few hundred votes.
Some Democrats blame Green Party nominee Jill Stein, who earned nearly 1.5 million votes when Republican Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016, but then—much like now—the Democrat represented ‘more of the same’ in a year when voters were looking for an agent of change.
Populist Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt ascended to the presidency after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 and he was reelected in 1905, but following tradition, he did not seek a third term in 1909.
By 1912, Roosevelt had become disenchanted with Republican William Taft, but he could not get the GOP nomination, so he organized the Progressive ‘Bull Moose’ Party, creating a split among Republicans that handed the White House to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
There have been five United States presidential elections in which the successful presidential candidate did not receive a plurality of the popular vote:
- 1824: John Quincy Adams won the presidency in the House of Representatives after none of the four candidates received a majority of the electoral vote. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but he did not win a majority of the electoral vote.
- 1876: Rutherford B. Hayes won the presidency after a disputed election in which the electoral votes of several states were contested. Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote.
- 1888: Benjamin Harrison won the presidency after winning the electoral votes of several key swing states, even though Grover Cleveland won the popular vote.
- 2000: George W. Bush won the presidency after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in the Bush v. Gore case. Al Gore won the popular vote.
- 2016: Donald Trump won the presidency after winning the electoral votes of several key swing states, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.