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A four-way race?

| Thursday, January 21, 2016

I’m a history major, meaning if you ask me political questions dealing with the completely — or mostly — dead, I can usually give you a rough answer that at least rhymes with part of the truth. The most up-to-date information about this cycle of campaigns, though? Not so much.

Which is why this election still allows my imagination to roam free over the possibility of something that hasn’t happened for more than 100 years in the United States: a presidential election with four tickets.

The last time this happened was in 1912, when Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) won the presidency over Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive), William Taft (Republican) and Eugene Debs (Socialist).

The thing about 1912, however, is that Taft and Debs combined garnered a whopping eight of the total 531 electoral votes. Well, more accurately, Taft nabbed eight while Debs was completely shut out.

In fact, 1860 was the last time the United States had a four-candidate race where at least three of the candidates were competitive (meaning received at least 10 percent of the electoral votes.) Abraham Lincoln (59.4 percent) won the election over John Breckenridge (23.8), John Bell (12.9) and Stephen Douglas (4.0).

The only time in American history where four candidates all won more than 10 percent of the electoral votes? 1824, when John Quincy Adams (32.2 percent) was elected over Andrew Jackson (37.9), William Crawford (15.7) and Henry Clay (14.2). And yes, Adams was elected despite losing both the electoral and popular vote to Jackson. Look it up.

All of this can change in 2016, though. We literally have a chance to witness a historical cycle of an already historical event.


As with perhaps too many questions nowadays, the answer traces back to one man: Donald Trump. Well, and maybe a little Bernie Sanders, too.

Here’s the thing: if the Republican Party doesn’t nominate Trump as its presidential candidate, he might just run as a third-party ticket.

Actually, scratch that: why wouldn’t he, given what we’ve seen so far?

So the Republican vote would be split between Trump and the party’s candidate, meaning an easy win for the Democratic nominee.

Except Sanders has absolutely nothing to lose by running on his own ticket either.

The man is 74 years old and will be 75 before this election finishes. He’ll be 79 before the 2020 election, one where there’s an incumbent President he’d have to defeat, which rarely works out well for the challengers in politics.

Sanders has a strong and loyal following and is gaining in the polls on Clinton, who hasn’t exactly seized the moment like party officials surely hoped.

Combine that with a weakened Republican side, and this might just be perfect scenario for a guy like Sanders to ascend to the Oval Office.

Like I said before, I’m no politician. I have no horse in the race yet and still have a long way to go before I even think about betting on one.

I just think it’d be one heck of a ride.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at zklonsinski@gmail.com

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  • João Pedro Santos

    A four-way race would clearly be much better and more diverse than a two-way race, but the winner-takes-it-all electoral system ruins that. While I hope that Donald Trump sabotages his own party, the electoral system would be way fairer if it was a two-round system.

  • Mr. Pockets

    If the above were to happen, the RNC pick would win. Nobody would likely get the 270 votes necessary and it would go to the house of representatives to vote on the winner (which the Republicans control handily)

  • Jordan

    The last election to be decided by the House was the election of 1824. Say you are right, and the race is between Trump, Sanders, GOP figure, and Clinton. It may be difficult for anyone to secure 270 electoral votes (this isn’t 1860, ALL candidates above have significant support and there is much more at play than personality).
    In this scenario, the election would be decided by next session’s House of Representatives. This would be a constitutional crisis waiting to happen. The House hasn’t picked the president in nearly 200 years, and it is unlikely that the Democratic Party would allow their voters voices to be ignored.
    Remember, in order for the House and Senate to vote on VP/President, a quorum of 2/3’s must be presend. I can’t imagine the Democrats willingly accepting this.
    Looks like trouble.