Third Parties

Learning from 1896: Why an Anti-Trump Third Party Will Flop

History shows the flaws in temporary 'fixes' against populist takeovers.


William Jennings Bryan
William Jennings Bryan's 'cross of gold,' public domain

If the anti-Trump third party plotters want a clue on how they might fare, they can learn from events in another realigning presidential election. Many elements of the story are familiar. Populist insurgents, often backed by low income new voters, seized control of one of the two major parties. Though caught completely off guard, the toppled elite and activists of the original party eventually fought back. They united in a third party intended to be the "true" embodiment of the old. They nominated two prominent politicians and generated substantial media coverage and praise, including from the last standard bearer of the old party. Despite this, the new party was a bust in November, garnering less than one percent of the vote. 

These events, though dating to more than a century ago, should give pause to advocates of an anti-Trump third party. In 1896, the old leadership of the Democratic Party had watched in horror as a group of outsiders, led by the young and charismatic William Jennings Bryan, captured the national convention and jettisoned the party's traditional support of the gold standard. Bryan charged that past Democratic policies had destroyed American jobs, compromised U.S. sovereignty, and enslaved the U.S. to British economic interests. Rhetoric on all sides was toxic and no reconciliation appeared possible. Democratic Senator Benjamin Tillman, one of the best known of these "Popocrats," even promised to skewer the pro-gold Democratic sitting president, Grover Cleveland, with a pitchfork. Bryan went on the hustings speaking to large and boisterous crowds about how a "cross of gold" was crucifying mankind.

Once over the initial shock, anti-Bryan's Democrats expressed determination to never support either him or the Republican alternative, William McKinley, who, though a recent convert to a strict gold standard, championed the protectionism they had long abhorred. They formed the National Democratic Party (NDP), drafted a pro-gold standard platform, and nominated two former governors. The rebels were a diverse coalition of party regulars, such as Senators William Vilas of Wisconsin and Donelson Caffery of Louisiana, former Mayor John P. Hopkins of Chicago, former U.S. Representatives William D. Bynum of Illinois and William C.P. Breckinridge of Kentucky, as well such pro-gold/pro-free trade ideological pundits as Edward Atkinson and Oswald Garrison Villard.

Many of the contradictions that characterized the NDP are already appearing in the nascent anti-Trump third party. Among these is an emerging tension between advocates of building a permanent party to replace the GOP, such as Randy Barnett, a professor at Georgetown Law School, and those who, in the words of Bill Kristol, want a "one time, emergency adjustment" allowing voters "to correct the temporary mistake of nominating Trump."

Using rhetoric much like current anti-Trump third party advocates, former governor John M. Palmer, the NDP's presidential candidate, hoped to create a "nucleus around which the true Democrat….can rally once more, and to preserve a place for our erring brothers, if the time comes when they repent." Revealingly, Kristol suggests the "Latter Day Republicans" as the party's name. The rebels of 1896 had much the same idea in selecting "the National Democratic Party" as their brand.

election button
Public Domain

A major flaw in both the Kristol, and to some extent, the Barnett strategy is already apparent. The stated goal of splitting a major party just to defeat its official candidate clashes with the natural desire of voters in that party to not throw away their votes or help the candidate in the party that remains united. In October 1896, for example, one NDP activist, expressing a widely shared frustration, reported that many Democrats were "almost persuaded" to vote for Palmer "but hesitate at the fear that the National Democracy is but a Republican side show." Not surprisingly, Bryan's supporters had a field day depicting the campaign as giving aid and comfort to the GOP and Palmer regularly was met by hecklers with jeers such as "Look at the McKinley Aid Society." It makes perfect sense to assume that supporters of anti-Trump third party will face an equal measure of hostility, or worse.

Another likely vote-suppressing factor for an anti-Trump party is the thorny issue of how to deal with down-ticket candidates. The NDP ran these candidates in only a few states, almost all against anti-gold Democrats. More typical was the policy adopted in Wisconsin at the behest of Vilas to abstain entirely from non-presidential races. Vilas asked whether "the fight should be hot? We are after votes now, and the unification of the party by and by." An unintended consequence of Vilas's conciliatory approach toward incumbent Democrats was to turn off potential voters who concluded that the NDP was not a serious political party.

Thus far, proponents of an anti-Trump third party are echoing much of this approach toward down-ticket races. One significant difference with 1896 is that more restrictive ballot laws now make running such candidates pretty much a non-starter, at least for this election. Barnett depicts the new party as a "vessel" that GOP non-presidential candidates can "support in good conscience." Talk show host Erick Erickson argues that it will actually help these candidates by increasing Republican turnout. "If voters don't turn out to vote for a presidential candidate," he asserts, "they're probably not going to turn out and vote for state and local legislative races as well, which could be a real bloodbath for Republicans." The likely result, however, will be to feed the perception that the anti-Trump party is just a feel-good temporary refuge for Republicans to temporarily park their votes, or a spoiler for Hillary, not a credible third party.

The diverse nature of the anti-Trump third party plotters creates an added problem. The bolters of 2016 are an amalgam of neo-conservatives, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, quasi-nativists, moderates, and even some small-government libertarians and constitutionalists. Finding a candidate who can appease, much less energize, all of these factions may be difficult. By contrast, the NDP, despite its eventual failure, had a much easier task of uniting its members around two simple goals: preserving the gold standard and low tariffs.

While an anti-Trump third party, as currently conceived, will probably fail, and fail badly, a third party organized along different lines might just make a splash. The trick is to mount a campaign that can simultaneously appeal to the record numbers of disaffected Republicans and disaffected Democrats. The current plan of anti-Trump party proponents, such as Erik Erickson, to target political and social conservatives, including GOP foreign policy hawks, pretty much closes off the prospect of getting non-Republican votes. A better way to create a winning combination is to run a candidate who can reach those socially liberal voters in the Democratic Party who reject Hillary and her crony capitalism and hawkishness but aren't necessarily comfortable with Sanders' socialism. Right now, the only candidate who could conceivably pull this off is Libertarian Gary Johnson, a successful former two-term governor of New Mexico who will have ballot status in nearly all states.

Because of his commitment to civil liberties and free markets, his opposition to the drug war, and his call for a more non-interventionist foreign policy, Johnson has a once in a lifetime opportunity to peel off disaffected elements from both parties. Both the Barnett and Kristol strategies, by more or less limiting the pool to conservatives who would normally vote GOP, can't hope to do this. Of course, it would be a pipedream to believe Johnson can win but he may be able to make major inroads and send a message that voters reject the corrupt Democratic establishment of Hillary and the impulsive xenophobia of Trump. All of this also assumes not only the Johnson is up to the task of staying on message and has sufficient funding to bring that message to the voters. 

NEXT: Lancet Commission Recommends Drug Legalization

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  1. I see what you did there.

  2. It’s early, it’s Monday, and I’m low on coffee, so I’ll keep this brief.

    1. The analogy is problematic in part because Trump is pulling disaffected voters from both parties, not just low-income new voters or whoever.

    2. Any potential nominee for an “anti-Trump” party would probably be drawn from the leadership of the current Republican party, i.e. the people inspiring the Trump vote. They won’t run as a third party. More likely is that you’d see a hotly contested convention where one of the old guard gets the nomination despite Trump’s popularity, which might possibly propel the Donald into a third-party run.

    3. The LP has been around for a number of years now, and has yet to run away with a presidential election. The reasons are that, a.) the LP has inadequate marketing, b.) the major parties dominate political life in this country because of the winner-take-all system, and c.) voters are in large part retarded. Also, I think a lot of people see the LP not as a blend of two things they like–“free minds and free markets”–but as the worst of both worlds–Progressive social values and “softness” on crime and foreign policy.

    1. Pretty much it, especially the part about the LP offering the worst of both worlds, at least in the perception of too many real-world voters.

      1. You mean to tell me that social condervatives are turned off by the “Messicans, weed and ass-sex” crowd?!

    2. Nixon’s anti-libertarian law funnels millions, maybe billions, to presstitutes for the express purpose of keeping the LP out of elections. That amendment to the IRS code passed within 24 hours of the LP becoming a thing, or, to God’s Own Party, a John Carpenter Thing complete with Kurt Russell. You were expecting fair play from looters?

      1. The LP has been in every election since 1980, despite the roadblocks. The voters have ignored them.

        1. Make that since 1972 the year after Nixon and the IRS began paying the media to ignore the LP. The law is online. Anyone can look it up. Go to and look up STATUTE-85-Pg497.pdf
          Voters never even dream the LP exists. It’s not on teevee telescreens…

    3. Here’s a reason to not vote for Trump, in the words of a former staffer:
      you will be doing him as much of a favor as you are for the country.…..n-defector

    4. 1) There is scant evidence Trump is pulling in new voters or democrats, and no proof that democrats who do vote for trump are not indulging in tactical voting to ensure Hillary’s easy victory over the only candidate whose negatives are higher than he own .

      3rd parties in american are alwats spoilers, they dont win. This election will be no different .

      The LP and any limited government constitutionalist republican party both suffer from the problem of insufficient graft. RINOs and democrats are in it for the spoils .So for them politics can be a well paying lifelong profession. LP and limited government parties are hobbies or retirement activities since the parties policies dont provide a means to support their candidates, or their families and friends . Such parties are practical only after the government has been so reduced in size and patronage that ANY politican has to be able to make a living outside of politics .

  3. If the GOP engineers a stolen nomination, then Donald Trump should run third party. They broke his promise to him, and he should make them pay.

    1. Good idea (alternates between twirling libertarian mustache and rubbing together nonlooter hands)

    2. The Perfesser conflates a splinter group (Ross Perot or the Tea aka Constitution “parties”) with a real third party. Two large looter parties form an oligopoly to shunt government jobs to parasitical lawyers while offering the illusion of choice. Planks are drawn from founding documents mutated to pander to cliques (ku-klux racists, mystical congregations, trade lobbies) and actual third parties–parties having ideologies, platforms, candidates and integrity (like the communists, prohibitionists and libertarians). Whatever it takes to keep their hands in the till (including the passage or repeal of prohibition and income tax amendments), they will do if hounded by the spoiler votes of genuine third parties. Liberty Party abolitionism was the tipping point cleaving slaveholding rapists from protectionist Whigs to benefit Red Republicans. That can just as easily cleave woman-coercing prohibitionists from sane republicans to favor today’s Libertarians. Defection to the Libertarian Party is a win-win solution for everyone but mystical looter prohibitionists.

      1. They can’t “steal” something from his that was never his.
        Either he gets 1237 delegates, or he doesn’t

        1. They could still change the rules before the first ballot, theoretically. I think.

          I’m pretty sure Trump forces would consider that “stealing it”.

          1. They could change the rules to say you need more delegate than whatever Trump gets. Then another rule to say any vote for Trump (or Cruz) is actually a vote for Jeb! (or whoever they choose).

            1. Or they could invoke their secret treaty with the romulans and have the romulan fleet prevent The Donald from attending his coronation. “They” have all sorts of nefarious options .

  4. I don’t consider it a loss at all if parties split up for an election; this can well be an important part of a necessary shuffling of how voters align with parties.

    1. I would be ok with a Hillary vs Republican House/Senate gridlock for four years but just imagine the bitching about “not getting things done” from the progressive media…YEAH, THAT’S THE IDEA DICKHEADS!

  5. Leave it to a government school prof to not understand that Billy Bryan was the entering wedge of a coalition between the Communist Party (est. 1846) and the Prohibition Party (est. 1869) to send men with guns out to rob and murder the citizenry for the twin felonies of swilling brew and working for a living. The anaconda swallowing the donkey cartoon predicted today’s Democratic party to much the same “T” that stood for Teetotalitarian Sharia law brought on by the 16th and 18th Amendments Herbert Hoover would later join into manacles and an iron ball with which to crush the economy and usher in the Great Depression. Its ideologues, Edward Bellamy, William Dean Howells, and ilk united the Marxist Faith with Christian Altruism to replace freedom and industry with superstitious parasitism.

  6. I don’t think anyone expects a third party run against Trump to be successful…

    If anything, it would be done for the explicit purpose to undercut Trump.

    1. Well, it does seem like many of the GOP establishment would prefer Hillary over Trump.

  7. The Republican party is finally disintegrating. Like the former Soviet Union, it is composed of parts united only by fear. Social conservatives, warhawks and libertarians cannot coexist in one party. The Tea Party demonstrated what happens when these groups try to work together.

    The social conservatives are the bane of modern America. They are so fearful that the culture will change that they will flip positions on everything when their idea of how America should look is threatened. Now, they are giving support to Trump solely because he promises to keep out, or throw out, all outside cultural influences from Mexicans to Muslims. Even their trademark issue, abortion, takes a back seat to the kulturkampf.

    What Trump revealed about Ron Paul supporters was the most disappointing. Two thirds of RP’s supporters abandoned Rand Paul in favor of Trump. This showed that there was no libertarian moment in Ron Paul’s candidacy, only an anti-establishment moment composed of more nihilists than libertarians culminating in the support of flip-flopping, xenophobic, sociopathic economic moron.

    1. From the get-go Trump exudes an odor of Perotismo, and may again be the GOP struggling to shed the Prohibition Party DNA injected into its platform in 1928. That was 13 years after Monkey Trial Billy Bryan resigned from the State Department in camaraderie with The Accursed Socialist Hun. The monkey on the Grand Old Prohibitionists’ back made FDR president-for-life, reelected Truman, elected JFK and Lyndon, pushed Nixon into religious fascism and harmed the economy, elected Carter (defeated by mohammedan prohibitionists), flourished under Ford and Reagan/Bush/Bush Jr to the point of again destroying the economy in 1988 and 2007. If Trump is lying about wanting to send men with guns to force women to reproduce and jail recreational users (the prohibitionist issues), the body-snatcher parasites surely sense this, hence the shrieks.

      This is the the tipping-point opportunity the LP needed.

    2. Yeah, sadly Trump has shown the true colors of many Ron Paul fanatics. They apparently bought into the lying smear the traditional Republicans always threw at Paul, “isolationist,” except in their minds that was a plus. They thought he’d be a protectionist, much like Trump and Sanders have promised to be. They didn’t know that the smear was all about Paul not being a massive war-hawk.

      1. What really bugged me about this was the excuses made for not supporting Rand Paul. “He supported McConnell against Bevin” which was nonsense because Bevin wasn’t in the race when RP announced his support for McConnell. Even after Rand Paul campaigned for Bevin’s run for governor they still made the same excuse.

        These same people had no problem with Trump giving money to the Clintons or his support for the most insane economic policies of any candidate other than Sanders. Sanders’ mind froze in 1969 and shows no signs of ever thawing out. Democratic socialism? Really? Even Scandinavia is moving away from high taxes on the rich and heavy business regulation. This putz still thinks that there is a “third way” but denies that way is actually economic fascism.

        I’d like to see Trump and Sanders debate. I’d record it and sell the DVD as “Dumb and Dumber, the Final Chapter “.

  8. I guess after watching Ted Cruz more or less reforge his platform on several different points to match Trump (to a fair amount of acclaim from the Glenn Beck/Matt Walsh types), I’m a little skeptical that there’s many Republicans honestly thinking that Trump is too illiberal. I think they mostly want “Trump, except not a dick”, which is a pretty crappy reason to make a new party.

    1. Personalities are a smokescreen. Great minds discuss third-party platforms. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people. There are trillions of dollars and many deaths on the table. This is our chance to free our kids from DemoGOP debt enslavement and death as cannon-fodder and terror victims in the prohibitionists’ religious Crusades.

      Sniffing republican crotches and currish fawning for their handouts are not going to accomplish what needs to be done. All you need do is cast a vote for freedom (and against totalitarian coercion). THAT is a burn the looters are guaranteed to feel.

    2. Cruz is emphasizing the eonomic portions of his platform. He hasnt changed anything I am aware of . His tax plan, free trade position, anti-regulatory plans all remain unchanged .

  9. I think the whole idea sounds kinda craz to me dude.

    1. Finally, some common sense in here.

  10. Right now, the only candidate who could conceivably pull this off is Libertarian Gary Johnson, a successful former two-term governor of New Mexico who will have ballot status in nearly all states.

    I guess if you worship at the alter of the Libertarian Moment you might think that. In reality, the only kind of candidate that pulls from both parties with any degree of success would be someone like John Kasich, because he’s just the right amount of oppressive statist for both parties to stomach.

    1. Well… that’s depressing.

  11. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do..
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  12. my roommate’s aunt scored 4200 dollars a week on the internet . She has been unemployed for 6 months but previous month her revenue was 14430 bucks just at work on the MacBook for some hours?AJ!00…..g$98/h.php

  13. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail. +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+

  14. Well, the GOP is finally coming apart which will give the democrats a power monopoly for years to come, at least on the national level. The GOP will probably continue to do OK in governors’ races and with the house for a while longer, until a supreme court picked by dem presidents decides that redistricting must favor their party.

    1. Lookada prohibitionist cryin’ like a big baby! Did da big bad democrat Jezebel kick sand in your tear-streaked antichoice face? Beg the Baby Jayses strike her down with lightning like his Daddy would’ve done!

      1. Dafuq?

  15. Before I saw the bank draft which had said $9426 , I didnt believe that…my… brother woz like actualy earning money part-time at there labtop. . there uncles cousin has done this 4 less than fifteen months and by now repaid the dept on there place and got a great new Mini Cooper . read the full info here …

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  16. National Review already did this article, well, an article comparing this to 1912 and the Bull Moose election that gave us Woodrow Wilson.

    So, either way, we either get a Presidential assassination, or the worst POTUS in history along with World War that leads, thanks to that POTUS and his allies, to more World War and genocide and a 50 year Cold War.

    Happy Days are Here Again!

    1. When Teddy threw the election to fellow prohibitionist Woody, the Prohibition and Socialist parties were still there, pressing for their income tax and making beer a felony, and making it stick by publishing platforms and casting third-party spoiler votes.

  17. I don’t think 1896 applies at all. They didn’t even have Fox News back then, let alone Limbaugh or the Internet.

    1. They had also just gotten rid of the federal income tax foreshadowed by the Panic of 1893–which tax had sucked the country into deep depression.

  18. William . I can see what your saying… Raymond `s article is surprising, last week I bought a top of the range Acura from making $4608 this-past/month and-a little over, $10,000 this past month . with-out any question its the easiest work I’ve ever had . I began this five months/ago and almost straight away startad bringin in minimum $82 per-hr

  19. There are other reasons than to win. Some people want to be able to vote without having to choose between Clinton and Trump. And Libertarians are unacceptable to many conservatives for a host of reasons; for me it’s the foreign policy

    1. Gosh. I guess the LP platform committee will hurry up and add planks to nuke Mecca, invade the old Ottoman Empire some more, invade a bunch of other places that never invaded These States and invite additional “terrist” attacks for your 10EE-7% of the total vote count. The whole point of running a party of principle is that it multiplies the law-changing power of each libertarian vote by roughly a factor of ten. You want military fascism? Throw away nine-tenths of what your vote is worth and your contribution will preserve it for an extra… what? 4 seconds maybe? Every nuclear warhawk knows there are pi times 10EE7 seconds in a year. Do the math. Or move to Russia… they love armed meddling abroad.

  20. Now I wonder how an anti-Hillary Clinton third party might work as song as Hillary doesn’t get an unexpected illness forcing her to drop the race?

    1. The CPUSA and Econazi parties are alive and well, and selling their platforms to the Dems by threatening to bleed off spoiler votes. The prohibition, tea and constitution party pressure the GOP to load down its platform with threats against Planned Parenthood and promises to see that no pregnant woman is left uncoerced. Why is this so difficult to understand? Go to and there is the entire Bernie platform. Did you imagine the Dems think for themselves? This policymaking by small party spoiler votes has been going on for well over a century and a half.

  21. RE: Learning from 1896: Why an Anti-Trump Third Party Will Flop

    The reason why this third party (the Libertarian Party) will fail is because the majority of the people in the United States know little if anything about our party, basic economics, the United States’s Constitution or the administration of business.
    They prefer to let the government take over their lives slowly but surely with the faintest hint this country is slowly developing into a socialist slave state. It is this naive thought that eventually devours the wise, the prosperous and eventually everyone who is not politically connected or part of the ruling elitist filth.
    Time and history, sadly, is on the side of this argument.

    1. Fail? Define fail. If by fail you mean not place its candidates in every office in the land, they’re all failures. If by succeed you mean change the laws and constitution the way the communists and prohibitionists changed the laws and constitution without getting hardly any votes, the LP has been a roaring, tax-cutting, legalizing, trendsetting and paradigm-shifting success. The case for voting libertarian is written in the passage and repeal of laws, not pixelated on government-regulated presstitute telescreens. See the Reason article on Gallup poll trends.

  22. I just read a new Trump ebook. It’s scary. Murder conspiracy. linky:

  23. More akin to being put out of its misery..

  24. Democratic Senator Benjamin Tillman, one of the best known of these “Popocrats,” even promised to skewer the pro-gold Democratic sitting president, Grover Cleveland, with a pitchfork.

    We have Woodchippers now!

    Vote Woodchipper 2016!

  25. Part time and full time free online jobs ,my unkel makes $45 /hr on the computer . He has been out of work for 4 months but last month her pay check was $4510 just working on the computer for a few hours.
    Its original & new site…visited Here…AXC0319


  26. The issue turns on whether the people from the fracturing party who aren’t inclined to vote for the eventual nominee can see themselves voting for the other party’s nominee. In other words, will the Republicans who won’t vote for Trump cast a vote for Clinton? I’d be surprised if any more than 10 or 15% of NeverTrump Republicans actually cast a vote for Clinton, and even fewer would vote for Sanders. But my educated guess is that such Republicans only account for at most 5% of Republican voters anyway, so basing a third-party effort on them is bound to fail miserably, even if it manages to capture all of the NeverTrump Republicans.

    Where the Republicans are really going to suffer is among independents. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Clinton wins independents by a 3-to-1 margin.

  27. uptil I saw the bank draft four $8760 , I be certain …that…my sister woz actually bringing in money part time from there labtop. . there neighbour had bean doing this 4 only about eighteen months and resently cleard the depts on there home and bourt a top of the range Chrysler ….

    Clik This Link inYour Browser….

    ? ? ? ?

  28. Let’s look at newer history: Ross Perot, basically the man who got Clinton into the White House. Ross was heard because the DNC wanted him to split the GOP vote.

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