Searching for the Ralph of the right wing

As you’ve probably heard, the most un-Portland-like thing happened this week. Ralph Nader got stiffed when he came to town to try and get on the Oregon ballot for the presidential election. He held a nominating convention at the Roseland, a venue that is more used to seeing raucous all-ages punk shows than speeches from 70-year-old consumer advocates, to get the required 1,000 signatures. In 2000, Oregon voters gave him some of his most solid support, but this year he could only rally 750 registered voters. Unbelievably, even Little Beirut doesn’t seem to love Ralph anymore.

Apparently, even the most blindly idealistic left-wingers have enough pragmatism to see that the country can’t stand another four years of being beaten around by the Bush because they want to blow their vote on making a “statement.” In 2000, there was just no reasoning with any hardcore Naderite about the futility and potential Bush benefit of a vote for Ralph. This year, his few remaining supporters had to contend with a large crowd of protesters trying to dissuade them. People who are into the whole protesting thing enough to actually make a sign, go to a rally and carry it are usually Nader’s core constituency. If they’re protesting against him, he’s screwed.

So it looks like Ralph won’t be able to play the spoiler in 2004 like he did in 2000. Regardless of how you spin it, the votes that went to him made the difference between Gore being the undeniable winner and Gore being the denied-by-the-Supreme-Court winner. Even if that wasn’t the result Nader was looking for, it still worked like a charm.

What the Democrats need is to make this kind of trick work for them. Judging by the most recent polls, this election is going to be another squeaker, and they need all the advantages they can get. So, what could be better than a right-wing version of Nader to pull the Green Party effect on the other side? An outspoken conservative who could run as an independent and siphon votes off Bush the same way Nader did Gore in 2000?

Of course, this could be looked upon as subverting the electoral process, but so is, say, stealing a frickin’ election, so Bush can’t really complain. This campaign has already witnessed a fair number of dirty tricks from both sides, so why not go for broke?

The ideal White Party candidate would be somebody with a gift for inflammatory rhetoric, a major-league ego and a mercenary sensibility that would preclude him from being bothered that his candidacy would aid in throwing the election to the party with views completely different from his own. Either that, or he would have to be so enamored of the idea of seeing his name in the headlines that that idea would never cross his mind. Going back a mere twelve years, we find the ideal candidate, someone who actually pulled this off successfully once before.

In 1992, Ross Perot received 19% of the popular vote, making him the most successful third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. He made it on the ballot in all 50 states, and he was included in the televised presidential debates. He was actually ahead of both Clinton and Bush in the polls at one point, before his baffling decision to drop out then get back in the race hobbled his candidacy. If all Perot’s votes had gone to Bush Sr., he could have beat Clinton. Perot ran again in 1996 with dismal results, but with the “support” of the Democratic Party machine, he could probably match or improve those results. Eight percent is most likely bigger than the margin would be between Bush and Kerry without his involvement.

The only problem is, Perot isn’t really a textbook conservative, and he has never identified himself as such. Also, he endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2000. But much of his support has always come from conservative quarters. He’s a political outsider, and conservatives tend to have a deep-seated mistrust of “the bums in Washington,” even if it’s their own bum.

Of course, he will have to come up with some far, far right-wing policies if he wants to get a decent chunk of the Bush vote. He needs a card-carrying right-winger to help with this, and that brings us to the question of a running mate. For this, we need look no further than another independent candidate from 1992, Pat Buchanan. The former Nixon speechwriter definitely has the mercenary sensibility down pat, and he is a genuine conservative in all his views, while Perot tends to lean towards Libertarianism. He can be the policy-setter, the go-to guy and most definitely the attack dog.

It’s a little late in the game for anyone new to be entering the presidential race, but with a heavy-spending, cost-no-object public relations push, the Perot/Buchanan ticket has a decent shot at success. Success at pulling away enough Bush votes to give Kerry a commanding lead, anyway. I just hope nobody notices the Democratic National Committee’s name on the checks for their TV time.