Now that the date of the New Hampshire primary is set for January 10, 2012, we can focus on when the Perot primary will be scheduled. In 1992 it was held on February 20 when Ross Perot announced on Larry King Live that he’d run for president if his supporters could get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. Perot outpolled the two-party nominees that summer before his campaign imploded.
I wrote this summer in Reason to Relax on the Vineyard about the dearth of challenges to incumbent presidents from members of their party. I am even more surprised by the lack of a significant challenge to the two-party system given the context in which the 2012 election will be fought. The Washington Post had a great piece on this yesterday. The last time two times the country suffered through a similar mixture of anger and economic insecurity (1992 and 1980), incumbent presidents faced significant primary challenges and then a third-party candidacy. But there seems to be very little in the works for a major challenge in 2012, unless one counts vapid figures like Donald Trump.
The difficulties facing independent presidential candidates are well-known. And despite the rise of independents, most voters identify with the two major parties. Truly independent voters are rare but the “myth” persists. For an intra party skirmish to result in a bolt that leads to a general election challenge, there needs to be significant tension and anger within the party at its direction. But it is rarely enough. Tim Cahill attempted to harness anger and the lack of popularity of Governor Deval Patrick and received only 8% of the vote, helping to reelect Patrick.
There has not been a successful third-party or independent candidacy in presidential politics since the upstart GOP replaced the Whigs in 1860. Surely this history weighs on the mind of those who might be thinking of a run. But there are moments in our political history for which the two parties seem to be rather inadequate. This would appear to be one of those moments.