This may be the year of the independent candidate. Evan McMullin seems to be taking large parts of the country by storm. Unlike many third party candidates, McMullin has both a popular message and strategy that could actually make him president. It’s a longshot, but it is a strategy that has already been proven to be workable.
In the election of 1824, the Democratic-Republicans, the forerunner of today’s Democratic Party, were on a winning streak. They had won the previous six presidential elections as the Federalist party declined. James Monroe, the incumbent, was ending his second term and declined to run for a third.
Four candidates, all Democratic-Republicans, vied to succeed Monroe. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford of Georgia, Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky and Gen. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee all won electoral votes. None of the candidates, however, won the majority of electoral votes required to win the election.
Andrew Jackson won the most electoral votes at 99 with John Quincy Adams running a close second at 84. Henry Clay, who finished fourth, decided to use his influence as Speaker of the House to support Adams. On February 9, 1825, the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams the sixth president of the United States in spite of the fact that he had received fewer electoral votes and popular votes than Andrew Jackson.
It is possible, but by no means certain, that history will repeat itself this year. The three hurdles than the McMullin campaign must clear are all long shots in and of themselves. FiveThirtyEight gives McMullin a 22 percent chance of winning Utah, but rates the chance that no one will win the Electoral College at less than one percent.
The one certainty is that Evan McMullin’s popularity hinges largely on the unpopularity of the two main candidates. If either of the two major parties had nominated a fairly honest, moderately likeable candidate that person would be winning a landslide victory. Instead we have Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
And now, even Evan McMullin has a chance to become president.
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