On Tuesday, all three network morning shows promptly dismissed talk of a third party conservative candidate stepping forward in the presidential race as “fantasy” and “a fool’s errand.” Hosts and correspondents openly mocked the notion of an independent alternative to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
On NBC’s Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie wondered: “Let's start with this tantalizing tweet from Bill Kristol that there could be a third party candidate who’s impressive and formidable and would be well funded and is thinking about getting in the race. Does this seem realistic, feasible?” Political analyst Nicolle Wallace brushed aside the idea: “Listen, anything is possible...But I don’t see this happening, and I don’t see it happening in a manner that weakens Trump.”
Moments later, Guthrie declared: “I mean, there's even the question of, could they get on the ballot? And if the point is not to get on the ballot but just be a spoiler, who signs up for that?” Wallace explained:
So this theory hinges on someone getting in and simply depriving either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump of getting 270 electoral votes....So then it goes to the revered House of Representatives, a Republican-controlled body, and each one would have one vote. So, you know, it's hard to imagine that the Congress, elected every two years by the voters, would go against the will of the people.
Fellow co-host Matt Lauer was ready to move on to other topics: “Let's just get off fantasy and conspiracy theories for a second.”
On ABC’s Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos predicted such a candidate would “hurt” Trump “more than it hurts Hillary Clinton.” Political analyst Matthew Dowd made a comic book comparison: “I have to say, Bill Kristol has been talking about this, he’s a little bit like Commissioner Gordon shining a bat signal over the White House hoping that somebody will show up and save the day and save the GOP...”
Dowd acknowledged that it was “a still real possibility,” but noted that “nobody has shown up yet to take that banner and save the day.”
On CBS This Morning, correspondent Major Garrett declared an independent run “almost impossible”:
There's a real chance – there's definitely a chance – “real” subject to interpretation. There's no candidate; there's no money; and filing deadlines are rapidly going away – which makes this a very, very difficult proposition....Even if there is a candidate and money, the practical realities make this almost impossible.
At the top of the 8 a.m. ET hour, political strategist Frank Luntz contradicted that argument as he described a disgruntled electorate:
We have identified a segment – and it's called 'none of the above'....And it talks and focuses on those people who do not like Hillary Clinton; who do not like Donald Trump – reject both individuals equally and very harshly....We've never had a segment that is this high in the population....It's just Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, they dislike intensely; and the number-one attribute that they're looking for is trust and integrity.
Co-host Norah O’Donnell asked: “Is it too late for an independent candidate to get in?” Luntz replied: “It's not too late. Mike Bloomberg could jump back in again; and I believe he would start with over 20 percent of the vote. If Bernie Sanders decided that he was mistreated by the Democratic Party, he would start with over 20 percent of the vote.”
Fellow co-host Charlie Rose insisted: “But Major Garrett said, in the previous hour that, in fact, it would be to late to file in Texas and other places; so therefore, it's a fool's errand.”
Luntz observed: “Except that Texas is going to go Republican no matter who files there; no matter who is running there. The key states – those states that are – that are decided by less than five percent of the vote – those filing deadlines are not until August or September.”
Here are excerpts of the May 31 coverage on all three broadcasts:
7:06 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let’s turn to Nicolle Wallace. Nicolle, good morning to you.
NICOLLE WALLACE: Good morning, guys.
GUTHRIE: Let's start with this tantalizing tweet from Bill Kristol that there could be a third party candidate who’s impressive and formidable and would be well funded and is thinking about getting in the race. Does this seem realistic, feasible? Who could it be?
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Independent Candidate Coming Forward?; DC Rumor Mill Stirs Over Potential Challenger]
WALLACE: Listen, anything is possible. Bill Kristol is a smart guy. But I don’t see this happening, and I don’t see it happening in a manner that weakens Trump, right? I mean, that has been the story, that has been what we have gathered around this table and talked about morning after morning. Crummy debate performance, didn't weaken Trump. Outrageous statements about Muslims, didn't weaken Trump. And I just question at this moment whether someone else getting in would weaken him at all.
LAUER: Let’s for a second say that Bill Kristol isn’t the kind of guy who would just throw something out there for no reason.
WALLACE: Right, because he’s not.
LAUER: We've already heard some people say, “It's not me.” Who could it be? Give me a couple of names.
WALLACE: Well, it could be – people talk about – I'll tell you the kinds of people who it would be. There are generals out there who people would love to see come in, they would be the kinds of people that would be difficult to attack from someone like Donald Trump. A kind of person like a Stan McCrystal, the kind of person with an impeccable resume on military matters. There are also some stragglers in the NeverTrump movement, people like Mitt Romney. There was a story this week...
LAUER: Who says he’s not in.
WALLACE: ...about how he’s alone in the wilderness, and he really is. But he's is a person who stood on principle and said, “I will never vote for Donald Trump.”
GUTHRIE: But, I mean, there's even the question of, could they get on the ballot? And if the point is not to get on the ballot but just be a spoiler, who signs up for that?
WALLACE: There you go. So here’s the question, we used to talk – and I remember Chuck Todd sat here and said it’s almost too late to get on every ballot. And it is now too late to get on every ballot. So this theory hinges on someone getting in and simply depriving either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump of getting 270 electoral votes.
LAUER: Yeah, but – and then talk about what happens if nobody gets 270 electoral votes.
WALLACE: So then it goes to the revered House of Representatives, a Republican-controlled body, and each one would have one vote. So, you know, it's hard to imagine that the Congress, elected every two years by the voters, would go against the will of the people.
LAUER: Let's just get off fantasy and conspiracy theories for a second. Let’s talk about California. Should Hillary Clinton lose to Bernie Sanders out there, what does it do to this race?
WALLACE: So we've also been talking for many months now about how much damage Bernie Sanders is doing to Hillary Clinton by staying in beyond the point where it's mathematically possible for him to be the nominee. Kristen Welker nailed it when she said that the reality is that Hillary Clinton has the nomination essentially locked up. This is zero-sum now, everything he does that’s good for Bernie Sanders is bad for her. And a win in California for Bernie Sanders would be very, very damaging to Hillary Clinton.
GUTHRIE: Although she could mathematically still get the nomination, but your point is she would be a severely weakened candidate.
WALLACE: It's just a psychic blow. It’s a huge and diverse state, Sanders hasn’t won a lot of huge and diverse states. If he bests her there, it’s a very – you sort of limp into your own convention at a time when you're supposed to be gathering strength.
LAUER: I understand Stanley McCrystal’s on line one for you, by the way.
Nicolle, thank you.
GUTHRIE: Yeah, exactly. Looking for a vice president
WALLACE: I'm sorry, sir.
Good Morning America
7:08 AM ET
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in Matt Dowd on this third party possibility coming up. We don't have the details on who it may be or when that person may be getting in, but you can understand why Donald Trump tweeting about that. This candidate likely to hurt him more than it hurts Hillary Clinton.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Trump Slams “Independent Candidate” Rumor; Could Third-Party Player Threaten GOP Nominee?]
MATTHEW DOWD: We think it's likely to hurt more. The reason why this keeps getting talked about, George, is we have two very unpopular likely nominees in the major parties that creates a window of opportunity. But I have to say, Bill Kristol has been talking about this, he’s a little bit like Commissioner Gordon shining a bat signal over the White House hoping that somebody will show up and save the day and save the GOP in the course of this. I think it's a still real possibility and I think there's a real push for this to happen, but I don't think – nobody has shown up yet to take that banner and save the day.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is true, Jon Karl. A lot of people have said no. Mitt Romney said no, former Senator Tom Coburn has said no. What kind of a person are they hoping to get here?
JON KARL: Well, I talked to Bill Kristol about this yesterday. He says he's looking for somebody who is known, perhaps not extremely well known, but somebody who has served his country and he say “his country.” Somebody who has some political experience. It sounds like he's talking about a military person, George. But, again, there are so many people that have turned down the chance to run, it's hard to see who he's gonna get.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, there is another third party candidate out there, of course that’s the Libertarian Gary Johnson, he won the nomination over the weekend. He’s going to run with William Weld. Thank you both.
CBS This Morning
CHARLIE ROSE: There's this question in politics: Bill Kristol –
MAJOR GARRETT: Yes –
ROSE: Suggested in a Tweet that, perhaps, there is a third-party candidate about ready to rise.
[CBS News Graphic: "Third Party Candidate? Chances A Trump Alternative Could Jump Into Race"]
GARRETT: Said there's a real chance – there's definitely a chance – real subject to interpretation. There's no candidate; there's no money; and filing deadlines are rapidly going away – which makes this a very, very difficult proposition.
Just as a moment to compare things: in 1992, when Ross Perot, the most successful independent candidate to run in modern American history – in mid-May, he had qualified for 20 ballots – twenty! We have no candidate on any ballot right now. You need 884,000 signatures across 50 states to qualify. Texas is already gone. By the end of June, four more states with 51 electoral votes will have their deadlines lapse, with a requirement of 157,000 signatures. Even if there is a candidate and money, the practical realities make this almost impossible.
GAYLE KING: Do you think Bill Kristol has a candidate in mind and he's not telling us?
GARRETT: I really can't conjure – (Rose laughs)
KING: (laughs) Okay –
GARRETT: What Bill Kristol is thinking or doing at this moment –
KING: Okay, okay. All right. Thank you, Major –
ROSE: There's talk about [Mitt] Romney –
NORAH O'DONNELL: Well said, Major – thank you so much.