Trump Refuses To Rule Out Running As A Third-Party Candidate

Donald Trump won't rule out running against the eventual Republican nominee. Will the RNC use this as an excuse to try to force him out of the race?

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Donald Trump is saying that he might run as a third party candidate if the Republican National Committee doesn’t treat him right:

Even if he isn’t the Republican nominee for 2016, don’t count on Donald Trump to go quietly. If the Republican National Committee does not treat him fairly during the primary season, he says, the chances he will run as a third-party candidate will “absolutely” increase.

“The RNC has not been supportive. They were always supportive when I was a contributor. I was their fair-haired boy,” he told The Hill in an interview published Thursday morning. “The RNC has been, I think, very foolish.”

Trump has led several recent national polls among Republican voters, though a recent Quinnipiac University survey this week showed him with severely negative approval ratings in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Virginia.

The billionaire business mogul said that “so many want me to” run as a third-party candidate if he does not win the GOP nomination.

“I’ll have to see how I’m being treated by the Republicans,” he said, adding that if “they’re not fair, that would be a factor” in deciding whether he would make a third-party run.

Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, called Trump earlier in July asking him to dial back his tone, specifically on immigration. The RNC also issued a statement last Saturday after Trump remarked that Arizona Sen. John McCain was not a war hero, and then that he was only a war hero because he was captured.

As with many things that he has said over the course of the past month, this is probably just bloviating on Trump’s part. Running as third-party candidate is much different thing from the rather low-key media-intensive “campaign” that he is currently running for the Republican nomination. If he did it, he’d actually have to hire a real campaign staff, he’d have to worry about getting on the ballot in all fifty states without the help of a party organization, and he’d have to do more than just spend his time insulting his opponents. More importantly, he’d have to do all of this knowing that there was really no chance at all that he could actually win the election. Just as Ross Perot in 1992, and to some extent in 1996, the most he could do is create the conditions that would allow someone to win the Presidency with only a plurality of the vote, as Bill Clinton did. According to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll of registered voters, in such a scenario Hillary Clinton would get 46% of the vote, Jeb Bush would get 30%, and Donald Trump 20%. This type of outcome would likely meant that Clinton would win states that she would otherwise be expected to lose in a two-way race, making her margin in the Electoral College potentially larger than the ones Barack Obama received in 2008 and 2012.  Looking at it logically, it’s hard to believe that Trump would actually run as a third-party candidate given all of this, but then before June 17th it didn’t seem logical that Trump would run for the Republican nomination either.

In any case, Trump’s flirtation with the idea of a third-party run does open up an interesting possibility for Republicans. Under FEC regulations, organizations that set up primary debates must use pre-established objective criteria” in determining who is eligible for the debates. In this case, the criteria for the first two debates limits participation to the candidates that are in the top ten in the most recent polls. Given his position in the polling right now, Trump will obviously meet this criteria and any effort to change the rules to exclude him would end up running afoul of the regulations. At the same time, though, the law does for the exclusion of candidates who are seeking the nomination of more than one party. Theoretically, Trump’s refusal to rule out a third-party bid could fall under this exception and allow for his exclusion if the RNC really wanted to get off the stage. Doing so, of course, would just play into Trump’s hands and could prompt him to make the third-party run he’s now just hinting at, so it’s unlikely that they will do anything like this for the early debates. As time goes on, though, don’t be surprised if the talk of excluding Trump, which some GOP donors are reportedly already calling for, gains traction if he continues to refuse to rule the idea of running against the eventual Republican nominee.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    I love Donald Trump. There, I’ve said it. I love him and I want him to stay in this race.

    You have to admit, he has a certain disruptive genius. Republicans gang up on him (finally) and he threatens to go 3rd party if they’re mean to him. He basically has in his hand the very weapon that could annihilate the Republican Party in 2016.

    I swear, I can barely get any work done. I just want to sit here waiting for his next thing.

  2. Scott says:

    I really don’t have much to say about this except 3rd party candidates tend to be quixotic and egotistical (although, in hindsight, I admit I did vote for John Anderson in 1980).

    Regardless, it is time for some Trump humor (intentional humor, that is).

  3. CSK says:

    I think the Democratic Party can relax about keeping the White House in 2016. Trump will do so much damage to the Republicans that Hillary Clinton (or whomever) will have a cakewalk instead of a campaign.

  4. Pete S says:

    @Scott: I think anyone who believes they are qualified to be president has to be egotistical, don’t they? All we can hope for is that the person who wins has the skills to back up the ego.

    I still don’t think the Republicans want to push Trump out. He is keeping the spotlight off the crazies who actually have a chance of winning the nomination and he is keeping the angry base satisfied. They just want to be seen opposing him when he gets really obnoxious.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    As with many things that he has said over the course of the past month, this is probably just bloviating on Trump’s part. Running as third-party candidate is much different thing from the rather low-key media-intensive “campaign” that he is currently running for the Republican nomination. If he did it, he’d actually have to hire a real campaign staff, he’d have to worry about getting on the ballot in all fifty states without the help of a party organization, and he’d have to do more than just spend his time insulting his opponents..

    I thought it was bloviating when he said he might enter the race for the GOP nomination–look where we are now.

    The ballot measure does take real boots on the ground, but outside some states that have very stringent restrictions on getting on the ballot (IIRC, Gingrich had trouble getting on the Virginia primary ballot), but for the most part it doesn’t take crack staff to get it done. There will be enough 25 year old field organizers from 2012 who would love to have “State Director” on their resume, clown candidate be damned. All it takes is money and the will to spend it–as Trump has made us aware, he has both in spades.

    As to running the media campaign versus a real boots-on-the-ground campaign…well, I don’t think even in his mind he’s shooting for 51% of the vote. He’s shooting for 27%, and a media campaign will get him most of the way there.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    As others have observed, I don’t believe Trump is a Democratic plant, but I’d be hard put to prove he isn’t.

    I’ve been trying to figure out Trump’s endgame. Third party would work. He can blame it on the GOPs who are attacking him, keep up a modest pretense of a campaign without having to ever win a primary, spend just enough money to get on ballots in several states, deprive Bush of whatever few percent falls his way, and keep his party going after the election. Sounds like a great way to feed his attention dependency on the cheap.

  7. JWH says:

    Clinton is the Democratic nominee. Bush is the Republican nominee. And a lunatic gazillionaire runs an independent campaign that splits the vote.


    Have I seen this movie before?

  8. Tony W says:

    Trump’s “Bull Moose” party will be known by the initials of its more commonly used name, “BS”

  9. Tyrell says:

    Would like to see a Trump – Sanders ticket, perfect combination.

  10. Paul Hooson says:

    Meet the new Ross Perot, same as the old Ross Perot….But, this time with new and improved crazy…

  11. Tillman says:

    @JWH: @Paul Hooson: “History does not repeat, but it does rhyme.”

  12. C. Clavin says:

    Bush is talking about getting rid of Medicare.
    It seems Republicans just aren’t interested in actually winning.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I know. I practically swallowed my tongue. I’m starting to think Jeb doesn’t really want to be president. He’s the incredible shrinking “front runner.” If he’s seen as failing the establishment will have to move fast and try to anoint Walker or Rubio or else push Kasich up the ladder really fast somehow.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    Our Gracious Host appears surprised that Donald goes through all this difficult campaigning and hints that he could run an independent race all without the chance to become president. I submit that the actual job of being president would be the worst possible outcome from his point of view. I’m reminded of Wm F Buckley once ran for mayor of NYC for the sole reason of opposing John Lindsey. A reporter asked ‘what would be the first thing you’d do if you won?’ ‘Demand a recount’, he replied.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    @C. Clavin: Well, we’ll all agree that partial privatization of Social Security was one of his brother’s greatest accomplishments!

    Seriously though, if Rubio or Walker were pushed to the front like Uriah wouldn’t they then get the reasonable question – ‘do you agree that Medicare should be privatized?’ For a card-carrying conservative there can be only one answer.

    By even voicing the possibility our Jeb! has planted a land mine in the Republican path to the WH.

    It’s as if these guys don’t understand the difference between running in an off-presidential-year election in a red state and running a national presidential campaign.

  16. michael reynolds says:


    I don’t think they are able to see past the primary season. We’ve got Walker threatening war on Day One, and now Jeb wants to kill Medicare, both are really horrible blunders – if you’re looking to November 2016.

  17. grumpy realist says:

    @Scott: You voted for Anderson? So did I!

    (The Trump show is priceless. The Republican party bigwigs are probably wondering if they can convince the CIA that Trump’s hair is a WMD and have it nuked from orbit.)

  18. Davebo says:

    Maybe Jeb just doesn’t want to carry Florida?

  19. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnMcC: I keep thinking the Republican Party is made up of a bunch of yahoo voters on the one hand and on the other hand a set of smart rich guys and smart guys they’ve hired. But I keep failing to find evidence for the latter.

  20. Rick Almeida says:

    What, Donald Trump declare his willingness to stay in the spotlight? Quelle surprise! What would shock me is if he actually has the discipline to actually mount a presdential campaign.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    I really hope that this will take down Walker..

    Walker starts to remind me of the Greek government:

    “As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it.”

  22. Pete S says:

    My favourite part of the whole story is Trump saying he will base his decision on how nice the party is to him, and that they are not being fair. Does he have any self awareness? Can he spell self awareness?

  23. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    @Scott: You voted for Anderson? So did I!

    (sigh) Me three.

  24. al-Ameda says:

    Ross Perot must be proud.
    I don’t think the 3rd party thing will happen, but I’m sure hoping that it does. This concept – Donald Trump as the avatar of a new 3rd party – only hurts Republicans. It’s all deeply moving.

  25. T says:

    Trump – Paul is what i want to see.

  26. michael reynolds says:

    Jesus H. Christ, it’s like some sad little club.

    Me four.

  27. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I was too young, but Anderson got 3 votes in my house (parents and older brother).

  28. Kylopod says:

    It brings to mind a David Plouffe quote when asked about the possibility of Sarah Palin being the GOP nominee in 2012: “Something tells me we won’t get that lucky.”

    Of course I don’t think it will ever happen, but if it does, I can just imagine the result. He tells reporters he’s going to win all 50 states plus DC, and he sticks by that claim all the way to Election Day despite there not being a single poll showing him in the lead (except for his own private polling form run by a certain investigator in Hawaii). He ends up winning about 5% of the vote and no electoral votes, and he claims ACORN stole the election from him.

  29. Kylopod says:

    @JWH: I upvoted your comment, but in seriousness I should note that it isn’t totally fair to Perot. Yes, he was a rich nutty egomaniac running a quixotic campaign, but unlike Trump he had some serious policy ideas, not all of them bad ones. Trump would be the first third-party campaign in history that is literally about nothing but the candidate’s insatiable ego.

  30. grumpy realist says:

    @Kylopod: Plus there is the fact that I can’t think of that many Dems who would vote for Trump. He’d definitely split the Republican Party in two were he to run third-party, though…..

  31. Kylopod says:

    @grumpy realist:

    He’d definitely split the Republican Party in two were he to run third-party, though…..

    I agree that a third-party Trump would present a far greater threat to the GOP than to the Dems, but to say he would split the GOP in two seems like an exaggeration. Perot didn’t split the GOP in two (actually, contrary to popular belief Perot took about an equal amount of votes from Democrats as from Republicans), and Nader didn’t split the Dems in two; he just siphoned off enough Democratic votes for it to make an impact in a very close race like the one that year.

    Then there’s 1948, where Truman faced not one but two third-party challengers who drew their support from Democratic voters, and yet he managed to win the election anyway. One of the common explanations I’ve heard is that because Truman was challenged from both his left (with Henry Wallace) and his right (with Strom Thurmond), it caused Truman to appear as the “moderate” choice, helping him win. That could be. But personally, I think the likelier explanation is that he was seriously damaged by Wallace and Thurmond and lost a lot of potential votes to them; he simply managed to win despite those obstacles.

    One major fallacy I see in a lot of election analysis is the idea that once a candidate wins, that means that everything that happened to him during the campaign must have helped him. It doesn’t seem to occur to some people that a candidate can suffer big setbacks and still win. The reason a third-party Trump is considered such a threat to the GOP is because nearly everyone assumes the GOP is unable to win a landslide at this point and at best could score a squeaker victory like Bush in 2000 and 2004, something that could be easily destroyed by even a marginal right-wing challenger.

  32. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Trump is being to Republicans what Jesse Jackson was to Democrats in 1984 and 1988, but infinitely more damaging.

  33. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Me four.

    Well, sunuvagun. That’s all of us, then.

  34. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Christmas came early this year 😀

  35. gVOR08 says:

    @DrDaveT: I didn’t vote for John B. Anderson, although I had lived in his district, and kind of liked him. In his kiss and tell book he said he retired from Congress because he just got tired of pretending to agree with the seriously nut job conservatives in the district. (Rockford IL, hotbed of John Birch at the time. Probably still.) But he had gone along with them all those years.

  36. Tyrell says:

    Coming soon: “Art of the Side Deal”

  37. Tillman says:

    Within some hours of hearing about our recent theater shooting, I realized we’re going to hear Donald Trump’s thoughts on guns.

  38. jukeboxgrad says:

    That’s all of us, then.

    Another one here.

    I guess I might as well chime in, since it seems like some kind of phenomenon.

  39. Kylopod says:

    @jukeboxgrad: I’m too young to have voted for Anderson–I was three at the time. But my parents both voted for him, and they’ve told me he’s the only non-Democrat they ever supported in a presidential election. Though a Republican who actually ran in the GOP primaries that year, he apparently got more of his support from Democratic voters. (The article I linked to has the data.) He seemed to provide an alternative for liberals who felt Carter was a failure but who couldn’t stomach the idea of supporting Reagan.

  40. Buffalo Rude says:


    Within some hours of hearing about our recent theater shooting, I realized we’re going to hear Donald Trump’s thoughts on guns.

    Well this should be interesting. . .

  41. Electroman says:

    @gVOR08: Yes, Rockford is still pretty reactionary. On the other hand, they have quasi-legal brothels. I’m sure there’s a causal relationship there somehow.

  42. grumpy realist says:

    speaking of nutsos….

    I’d be more worried about this guy except, as one of the comments over at TPM pointed out, the only people “of note” showing up are the grifters….

  43. C. Clavin says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Gaffney is a big deal in Republican foreign policy circles…was in the Reagan Administration and was one of the boneheads in the Project for a New American Century…the organization behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There is no end to the kooks in the Party of Stupid.

  44. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    In addition JEB! was one of the founders of PNAC. He really needs to be held to account for being part of the Organization that spearheaded the Iraq War. So far questions about Iraq have centered on his brothers decisions, and not his own role in that mess.

  45. grumpy realist says:

    I just had to quote this, from Annie Laurie over at Balloon Juice:

    Okay, yeah, Trump’s the political equivalent of HFCS-frosted doritos with a side of low-fat ranch dressing, but for us Dems and devout cynics, he’s also the gift that will not stop giving. Like the herpes your cheating college ex just picked up during his late-night bar crawls, the more grief The Donald gives “his” party, the harder it becomes to hide our smirks.

  46. jukeboxgrad says:

    [Anderson] apparently got more of his support from Democratic voters … He seemed to provide an alternative for liberals who felt Carter was a failure

    Interesting history, thanks for explaining.

    In my case, I voted for Anderson mainly to express my feelings about our so-called ‘two-party’ system. The parties are different, but not nearly different enough. I felt this way in 1980, and I still feel this way. So aside from voting for Anderson, I also voted for Perot, Perot and Nader. All while living in a ‘safe’ state, though.

    You probably realize I’ve spent zillions of hours arguing with conservatives online, mostly at places like National Review. They typically get real disoriented when they discover that I never voted for anyone named Clinton or Gore.

  47. Kylopod says:


    In my case, I voted for Anderson mainly to express my feelings about our so-called ‘two-party’ system.

    There are many countries in the world with viable multiparty systems. The US just isn’t one of them–and I believe the reason is structural, not cultural. In other words, the reason third-party candidates almost never succeed isn’t because of a lack of public will but because our system is set up to exclude them. (I don’t mean deliberately set up that way–the Founders didn’t intend for there to be any political parties originally, let alone a rigid “two-party system”; it’s just what happened to emerge from the system they did create.) If we want to change that, we’re not going to get anywhere until we get rid of the Electoral College and create proportional representation in Congress–at minimum.

  48. jukeboxgrad says:

    the reason is structural, not cultural

    Yes, exactly. I agree with everything you said. Your comment is a clear description of a major problem that is rarely mentioned.