A wildly popular Republican boldly breaks ranks with the party establishment and runs as a third-party candidate.
In 1912, that popular Republican was former President Theodore Roosevelt. Disgruntled after the lackluster presidency of William Howard Taft–and unable to accrue enough delegates at the nominating convention after alienating Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin and the party establishment–Roosevelt formed the Progressive, or famous Bull-Moose, Party.
One hundred years later, could we be experiencing a repeat? Amid an already-crowded GOP presidential field, former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin may soon make an announcement about her own intentions regarding the 2012 race. Many–including former Bush acolyte Karl Rove–believe she will throw her hat in the ring.
But with a few mainstream front-runners already appealing to most Republican primary-goers–Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, at least–does Palin have a shot at her party’s nod? Or must she form her own third-party–an Alaskan-tinted, mama-grizzly version of the Bull-Moose Party of yore–to achieve her presidential aspirations?
Much has changed in 100 years. When Roosevelt spurned establishment Republicans, Sarah Palin’s Alaska was not yet a state. Eugene Debs and the Socialist Party garnered a full 6% of the popular vote. The Ford Model T was just beginning to proliferate, the Titanic was sunk and Fenway Park was just opening.
It is often said that history is our best guide to the present. So how did the Bull-Moose schism work out for Theodore Roosevelt? (Blue states are for the Democrat, Yellow states are for the Bull-Moose and Red states are for the Republican)
The Democrat in the race–New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson–won in an unprecedented landslide, earning 435 electoral votes, 41% of the popular vote and 40 out of 48 total states. Roosevelt managed to come in second with just 88 electoral votes, 27% of the popular vote and 6 states carried. (The election was the only time in US history that the incumbent–William Howard Taft–finished in 3rd place, which he did with only 8 electoral votes, 23% of the popular vote and 2 states carried. Those 8 electoral votes are the worst showing for an incumbent president in American history.)
So how would Sarah Palin fare as a third-party candidate in 2012?
The good news comes for establishment Republicans, whose landslide loss to incumbent President Barack Obama would not be as lopsided as the 1912 outcome.
The map above indicates several battleground states that would become pickups for the Democrats. In this scenario, new “battlegrounds” would emerge that would be shocking to your average conservative pundit: Georgia. Mississippi. Arizona. South Carolina. Texas. Alaska.
Sure, President Obama might come in third in Utah, Oklahoma and Idaho. But overall, he would win by a commanding margin: 391-147. (And if Rick Perry isn’t on the ticket, expect that advantage to spread to 429-109)
What is even more notable about this scenario is that Sarah Palin would likely win zero states, proving her electoral chances to be more like H. Ross Perot than Theodore Roosevelt. Her favorables just aren’t good enough–in fact, they are negative in pretty much every state–to warrant a significant chance of success. Her best pickup chances would be in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Idaho, Utah, Nebraska and Alaska.
So will the 2012 presidential race mirror the 1912 contest–a stunning success for Democrats? The answer to that question lies with the persuasiveness of the Tea Party and–ultimately–with the temerity of Sarah Palin.