His failure to reach the first Presidential debate – polling at an average of around 10% nationally – would seem to have put to rest any chance of Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, occupying the White House for the next four years. Certainly the chances of the Libertarian ticket reaching the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the election outright are essentially nil, which leaves a few avenues open for Johnson – which may not be as unlikely as they would seem.
Preventing either candidate from reaching 270 seems plausible. If we take state-by-state data from recent polling then Clinton takes a narrow victory overall – but adding in data from recent state-wide polling in Florida which has put Trump ahead of Clinton changes the picture significantly. Based on that data, Clinton would be on 270 and Trump on 268 – meaning that Johnson would only have to win one state (his home state of New Mexico – with its 5 EC votes, and where he recently polled 25% – would suffice) to prevent Clinton or Trump winning outright.
Johnson has been polling well among independents and young voters, with veterans also polling strongly for the Libertarian ticket. He has also, more crucially, reached 25% in New Mexico (5 EC), 23% in Utah (6), and 19% in Alaska (3), Idaho (4), and South Dakota (3). If he can convert his obvious advantages into a ground campaign (and for a party without nationwide campaigning experience, that will be a significant challenge) with the capacity to win over enough voters to have an impact on the election, then the Libertarian nominee might still be in with a shot of the White House come November 8th.
If, continuing the hypothetical model, Johnson were able to win New Mexico, then the period between election day and the convening of the 2016 Electoral College may well be an important one. With Clinton on 265, Trump on 268 and Johnson on 5, the three candidates would require faithless electors to break with their parties to become President. A Trump victory through faithless electors seems unlikely – particularly given the polarising and incendiary nature of the GOP nominee – and likewise the prospect of at least 5 GOP electors switching to Clinton seems equally unlikely. Johnson winning the White House through faithless electors is, to all intents and purposes, impossible because of the sheer volume of votes required.
In that case then – having discounted the prospect of a tie-break being broken by faithless electors – under the US Constitution if a candidate fails to get the 270 votes required then the Presidential Election goes to a vote of the House of Representatives and the Vice Presidential Election goes to the Senate. The Presidential Election is the interesting one for the Libertarians, as Bill Weld is unlikely to beat either Tim Kaine or Mike Pence into the final two for the VP Election.
When the election goes to the House, the Representatives votes in state blocks (with states discounted in the case of a tie) and a minimum of 26 states must back a candidate for them to be elected President, with the three candidates with the highest Electoral College votes being on the ballot paper. While the GOP would be expected to win such a ballot, it would take just a few Never Trump-ers to leave the House in deadlock for a few rounds. In such a situation, a candidate like Johnson might appeal to Democrats and Republicans as a consolidation candidate – when presented with the choice of an experienced, non-partisan (or essentially non-partisan) candidate over the divisive Trump or Clinton, Johnson may be able to secure the support of enough states to win the House, and the Presidency.
The House route represents the best chance Johnson has at the Presidency – as a compromise candidate to balance off the polarising influences of Clinton and Trump. Experienced, competent, honest and refreshing, Gary Johnson needs and will get more exposure to the American public this campaign. He has been backed by a very significant number of media publications – and, Aleppo incident aside, has generally been received very well by the general public. Polling at 10% as a third party with little exposure is no mean feat – if he can get onto the stage for the final two debates and get a solid ground team together, then he may at the very least achieve his main aim: breaking the two party system. Any President elected by the House – Libertarian nominee or otherwise – will fundamentally undermine the Electoral College system and that will give the Libertarian’s a real chance to influence future elections.
Whatever happens, 2016 could be Gary Johnson’s year.