Republicans have worried about the splitting of their party this election cycle, whether through possible third-party runs — by anyone from the Donald to former Utah governor Jon Huntsman — or a brokered convention, which has been rumored in the event of a Trump nomination.
Meanwhile, the Democrat side of the equation has appeared a lot more locked and loaded, after Vice President Joe Biden formally declined to run. And even despite the Bern many Dems are feeling this election cycle. It’s essentially assumed Hillary Clinton has not just the nomination, but the Democrat vote, locked up.
But that could change, if one Democrat makes good on his consideration of returning to the presidential race running as an independent. If he does, he could end up having an outsize effect on the race — which could mean trouble for Hillary Clinton.
As Bloomberg Politics reports:
When Jim Webb quit the Democratic presidential race on Oct. 20 amid low poll numbers and a minimal debate presence, the former Virginia senator left open the possibility he’d return for a White House run in a different political guise. Now he appears to be edging closer to making good on it.On Saturday morning, Webb used Twitter and his Facebook page to attack Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton for her handling of Libya during her time as secretary of state.
Hillary Clinton’s failed vision in Libya & the Arab Spring are foreign policy leadership at its worst. https://t.co/NC80rbKLfP
— Jim Webb (@JimWebbUSA) December 26, 2015
The lengthy condemnation on Facebook, which said, among other things that “Clinton should be called to account for her inept leadership that brought about the chaos in Libya,” came just days before the end of the year, which his team had previously told CNN would be reasonable time for them to make a decision about an independent bid.
Since dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination, Webb has continued to maintain his Webb2016 website, which he has updated with posts about the possibilities of an independent run. On Twitter, he and his fans have been promoting a #WebbNation hashtag.
A run by Webb, who often manages his own social media accounts and has also used them recently to promote a petition in favor of his run and to deliver kudos to Bernie Sanders in his battles with the Democratic National Committee (“nothing more than an arm for the Clinton campaign,” Webb tweeted), could further complicate the already unpredictable 2016 election.
While observers typically have analyzed the prospect of a third-party or independent run by Republican front-runner Donald Trump—or even one from Sanders—Webb could still alter the dynamics of the race even with his smaller profile.
A recent CNN poll, for instance, forecast tight races between Clinton and several Republican contenders in hypothetical match-ups for the general election. Webb’s campaign has told Bloomberg Politics it would concentrate on mobilizing voters in the ideological middle, along with people who have become dissatisfied with politics.
In a tight race, even a small base of support could make him a factor. Ralph Nader, for instance, famously won only small percentages of the vote in many states in the 2000 presidential election, yet that arguably helped tip the Electoral College vote to then-Texas Governor George W. Bush, denying Democratic Vice President Al Gore, the winner of the popular vote, the presidency.
A Webb independent run could also cause trouble for the GOP nominee, given his history.
There’s no ensuring that Webb would be a spoiler for Clinton even as he attacks her. Although he ran as a Democrat to serve in the Senate, he is a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who also served for a time as President Reagan’s secretary of the navy and has won conservative plaudits. Even Saturday’s attack echoed the talking points of Republican candidates and groups.
Those of us who watched the first Democrat debate saw Webb stick out like a sore thumb as a veteran among the other liberals on stage — and some Republicans found messages that resonated among his talking points.
To be sure, any third-party run — however small the base of support behind it — will add another layer of unpredictability to an already unpredictable election cycle. And Jim Webb’s messages targeting economic populism and breaking the monopoly of the two-party system play into popular key themes.
Actually, given the surge of anti-establishment sentiment on both sides of the aisle — and the decline of “conventional wisdom” about how the race will play out — there’s no telling what kind of effect a third-party run might have on this race.
Whatever Webb ultimately decides, at the very least, I welcome another voice calling out the failures of Hillary Clinton and the dangers of putting her in the White House.
[Note: This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]