No, Jim Webb Probably Would Not Be A Viable Independent Candidate For President

Jim Webb's recent criticism of Hillary Clinton is renewing speculation about an independent bid for the White House, but he hardly seems like a viable candidate for such a run.

Jim Webb

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who briefly ran a quixotic bid for the Democratic nomination for President before dropping out shortly after the first Democratic debate amid speculation that he might take up an independent bid for the White House is getting attention again for criticism directed at Hillary Clinton leading to another round of speculation that he might run for President in the fall after all:

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.

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.

Webb could also get a boost from the organizers of the general election debates, who arepreparing for the possibility of three candidates onstage, albeit ones who thus far, have managed to command far more support than Webb the roughly one percent of Democratic support Webb managed to muster by the time he quote the race.

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 haswon conservative plaudits. Even Saturday’s attack echoed the talking points of Republican candidates and groups.

His public statements, meanwhile, have focused economic populism and breaking the monopoly of the two-party system.

Despite the apparent escalation of his interest in an independent bid and his aides previously stated interest in making Webb’s intentions known by the beginning of 2016, history suggests he could toy with voters for quite some time. Webb missed his own self-imposed deadline for getting into the Democratic race and blatantly disregarded conventional wisdom on political timing when finally declared hours before the beginning of the July 4 holiday.

In addition, the earliest state deadline for submitting signatures for an independent presidential run is May 9 in Texas, according to Ballot Access News. Given that most filing deadlines occur in August, Webb’s post-Christmas social activity could be another trial balloon.

You should be able to read Webb’s rather long Facebook post at the link as well as additional coverage of his comments from John Fund at National Review, who focuses on the political impact that a Webb independent run might actually have on what appears at least for the moment to be the same kind of closely fought General Election battle that we’ve become used to over the past several election cycles. Others, such as Taylor Millard at Hot Air, have also argued that Webb could potentially meld the populism that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have tapped into in their respective, and seemingly completely nonidentical campaigns for their party’s nominations. And, of course, the cable news media has speculated many times about the impact that a Webb independent bid could have on the electoral calculus that will decide who the next President will be.

In the end, though, this all strikes me as an utterly pointless endeavor, especially in the case of a candidate like Jim Webb.

First of all, it’s hard to see exactly where Webb would draw support from in a closely fought campaign between Hillary Clinton on the one hand and whomever the Republican nominee is on the other. When he was running for President, Webb’s platform was an odd mixture of economic populism not too dissimilar from what one hears from Bernie Sanders and criticism of the foreign policy of the Bush and Obama Administrations combined with some distinctly right-wing positions on issues such as gun control and the Confederate flag. Some might argue that a candidate like this could potentially draw support from both a Republican and a Democratic candidate, but given how polarized our political system has become, it strikes me as unlikely that a candidate who is seemingly trying to “bridge the divide” between left and right is unlikely to attract people who are already going to be committed to voting for one candidate or another, whether its because they support that candidate or (more likely) because they so vehemently despise the other candidate that they are willing to vote for the most viable alternative candidate, and that’s not going to be Jim Webb.

The bigger issue that a Jim Webb independent campaign would face, though, is the fact that it’s not at all clear that Webb would even be able to mount a viable campaign to begin with. As I’ve noted when discussing the possibility of an independent bid by Donald Trump, running as an independent for President is not an easy affair, it requires the resources necessary to get on the ballot in fifty-one separate jurisdictions. They’d need the resources for a nationwide campaign that would be independent of any type of party organization that being the nominee of a major, or even minor, party would provide. And, of course, they’d need money to run a media campaign that would at least be somewhat competitive with that of the two major party candidates. Finally, if they fail to hit something close to 15% in national polling, then it’s unlikely that an independent candidate would be invited to any of the televised Presidential debates. Given the fact that Webb raised less than one million dollars during the time he was a Democratic candidate, and that he never got above one percent in the polls, it’s difficult to see how Webb could pull any of this off.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. It doesn’t follow logically that Jim Webb wouldn’t have the support of any party, if he ran for president outside the Democratic and Republican Parties. Three-fourths of the states now have a ballot-qualified party beyond the big two, and some of those parties would be happy to have Webb as their presidential nominee. Even Ross Perot in 1992, and John Anderson in 1980, and George Wallace in 1968, accepted ballot lines of various one-state minor parties.




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  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Webb really fills no niche in either party plus he has zero charisma.




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  3. Tyrell says:

    Jim would be a good choice for vp. He has a military background and leadership experience. He would balance the ticket .We need someone in the top positions who has served in the military.




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  4. Tony W says:

    Jim who? Is somebody talking? His role was to point out that only Hillary has a voice with the DNC, that role is now completed and he needs to fade away.




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  5. Spat Mac says:

    He’s got my vote. The only candidate running who is worthy of the office. We desperately need alternatives to the smiley face professional politicians served up by the R and D fringe.




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  6. Kylopod says:

    One of my main reasons for skepticism is that historically, third-party candidates end up getting a far lower percentage than they started out with. For example, Ralph Nader began the 2000 cycle with 8% of the vote and ended up getting less than 2%. John Anderson began with 20% and ended up with 6%; Ross Perot started out leading the field and ended up in third place with 19%; and so on.

    Considering that Webb begins his putative bid with less than 1%, he could well end up in the negative numbers. Or maybe the imaginary ones.




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  7. Jim Webb is and was an awful and lazy campaigner who only won the 2006 Senate race because of George Allen’s infamous utterance of “macaca”.

    He had to be drafted by party insiders and barely won a sparsely attended primary against a lobbyist. He didn’t release a television ad until two months prior to election day and a month after Allen’s usage of “macaca”.

    The man was so lazy that barely finished his only term in the Senate and didn’t feel like running for reelection in 2012.

    And someone expects him to really run for President and organize a campaign across 50 states?




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  8. Gromitt Gunn says:

    It wasn’t for that dame, see, he could have been a contender, see!

    *chomps cigar*




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  9. JWh says:

    Webb can’t really raise the money to get on the ballot for an independent bid. He also doesn’t have the charisma to run for president. Donald Trump might be an eccentric billionaire, but he also oozes a charisma that appeals to a certain set of the electorate. Even when Trump complains about unfairness, he’s charismatic. Webb is a bit more like your really, really crabby uncle.




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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Tyrell: Webb only made sense as a southern, male, veteran ticket balancer for Hillary, and from a swing state. But to be picked as veep you also have to add value as a campaigner.




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  11. al-Ameda says:

    He’s petulant.
    Apparently he believes that people just haven’t the chance to get to know the real Jim Webb or he’d be polling somewhere above 1%. I’ve never understood the appeal of Jim Webb among so-called conservative Democrats – neither, it seems, do they.




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  12. Andre Kenji says:

    Webb could easily have done a similar job that Kucinich or Gravel did in 2008 – use the campaign and debates to make easy points against party leaders. He could have said to Hillary to her face that her intervention in Libya failed and that she did not care for working people, or something like that. He could do some campaigns events there or there, specially in South Carolina.

    But he did nothing of that.




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  13. JWh says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I’ve never understood the appeal of Jim Webb among so-called conservative Democrats – neither, it seems, do they.

    I like Webb because his conservatism aligns with my own conservative impulses. But I also think that as a politician, Webb comes across as petulant (as noted above) and grating. And from what I’ve seen, he’s not very effective as a dealmaker. So … not a good candidate or politician.




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  14. CSK says:

    If Webb were capable of getting a serious campaign off the ground, I could see some Republicans voting for him if Trump became the nominee.




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  15. Ken says:

    MORE American voters are registered as Independents; December 2015.
    (Registered American Voters December 2-6 2015, Gallup Poll)
    Independents 40%
    Republicans 27%
    Democrats 30%

    Jim Webb is the democrat version of the republican libertarian Rand Paul.

    Jim Webb could BE a viable Independent candidate as the American public appears to be looking for an Independent, “Outside of the Loop” candidate.

    Both Rand Paul and/or Donald Trump could slip out of the ranks of the corrupt major parties to run viable candidacies as well.

    Don’t count out the Independent vote just yet…this election will be decided by the independent voters.




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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Ken: Surveys say most self described “independents” heavily lean R or D, they just don’t want to say so. AMERICA is not looking for an “Outside of the Loop” candidate. You can hardly describe Sanders, a long serving Senator who caucuses with the Ds “Outside of the Loop”. And Webb is doing this because he’s stirred essentially zero interest among Dems. REPUBLICANS are looking for an “Outside of the Loop” candidate. And apparently they’ll settle for just loopy. (Sorry, never did have any will power on puns.)




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  17. Mikey says:

    @Ken: If you think the effect of the “independent” voter (99% of whom are actually strong leaners toward one of the major parties who have convinced themselves they vote on “issues not candidates”) will be anything other than to put a major party candidate in power, I’ve a shiny bridge for sale, cheap…




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  18. Kylopod says:

    @Ken:

    Don’t count out the Independent vote just yet…this election will be decided by the independent voters.

    Sorry, but that’s a myth. Romney handily beat Obama among independents while losing the election. And indeed, studies indicate that a large majority of independents are basically closet partisans who vote for one of the major parties just as often as self-identifying members of those parties do.

    http://cookpolitical.com/story/6608

    People get too caught up in labels, and as a result they end up thinking it says something about people’s voting patterns when often it does not. Elections are partly decided by swing voters (and by turnout of the party faithful), but it’s a mistake to think swing voters and independents are the same thing. Some swing voters are independent; others are actually registered Democrats and Republicans. Either way, it’s a much smaller group than in the past. In other words, even though an increasing number of voters call themselves independent, actual voting patterns suggest the two-party system is as strong as ever.




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  19. Andre Kenji says:

    Webb is a mixture of intellectual intelligence and physical force. There is an appeal to that. But many people felt betrayed by him when he opposed the Iran Deal, and he could have used the Primary to do some, you know, political campaigning.




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