Sept. 3, 2015 — Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has so far exceeded all expectations, but the rubber will soon meet the road for the wealthy upstart candidate. Continuing to publicly entertain the possibility of entering the general election as an Independent candidate if “the Republicans aren’t nice to me”, the decision whether to do so will likely come sooner rather than later.
The South Carolina primary is one of the most important. It is third on the nomination schedule and will likely hold its vote on Saturday, Feb. 20 of next year. The Palmetto State, like many others in the South and other places, has what is commonly referred to as a “sore loser law”. This means any person entering a partisan primary is ineligible to run as an Independent candidate in the related general election.
Most of these laws do not pertain to the presidential contest, but the South Carolina law does. Therefore, if Trump participates in the state’s primary – and he is leading there according to the latest polling – he would not be allowed access to the SC general election ballot if he fails to become the Republican nominee.
But, South Carolina is not Trump’s only potential stumbling block. As we saw last week, Republican Party leaders in Virginia and North Carolina also want to add a loyalty pledge to the primary qualification criteria. The binding promise would formalize that, as a condition of being slotted on the Republican primary ballot in these particular states, the signer could only participate in the general election as the official Republican presidential nominee.
In places such as South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas, the political parties control ballot access. Therefore, candidates not adhering to the local rules and procedures would be barred from participating either in the primary itself, or in the related general election as an Independent. It is expected that other states, either by party edict or enacting a law when the legislatures convene, will soon follow Virginia and North Carolina’s lead.
If things were to remain constant in the Republican campaign, the most likely scenario would yield Donald Trump going to the convention with more delegates than any other candidate, but nowhere close to attaining majority support. This means the nomination battle would fall into a brokered convention.
As a result, all delegates, acting as free agents on the fourth roll call and beyond, would decide the party’s presidential nominee. The chances of Donald Trump coming through such a closed party process are minimal at this point; therefore, the potential of him running as an Independent becomes a much greater threat.
The road for any person to qualify as a national stand-alone candidate is a difficult one. In addition to some of the obstacles previously mentioned regarding sore loser laws and party controlled ballot access, Trump, or any other potential Independent, must qualify individually in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Should he fail to win the nomination and then attempts to mount an independent campaign in late July, Trump would be required to begin a massive signature drive to petition on the ballot where required. The aggregate total of needed valid signatures is just under 600,000. Therefore, he would either face a major logistical task, or constructing a colossal legal operation to obtain ballot placement via court order.
Trump will soon need to make final decisions as to whether to finish the Republican primary/caucus process or break away and run as an Independent. As the obstacles to running a rogue campaign are now beginning to present themselves, reality is striking that his decision-making window is also starting to close.