The Exponential Possibilities and Faint Hopes of a Crazy and Octagonal Election Year

The most tiresome cliche of this crazy election year is that it’s a “binary choice,” which is meant to hector that landslide majority of Americans who find both of the major party presidential candidates unfit for the highest office in the land to nonetheless choose between the two. A failure to vote for one is a de facto vote for the other, the arguments goes, and its logical corollary is that a vote for neither is somehow a vote for both of those awful people.
Even in this crazy election year it’s highly likely if not yet entirely certain that one of those awful and unfit major party candidates will become president, so the argument has some merit, yet in another very real sense it is utterly untrue. When we wander over to the local Lutheran Church to cast our votes next fall the presidential ballot will also include a Libertarian and a Green and probably a Constitutionalist, and here in Kansas there’s always a Prohibitionist nominee on there, and it might also include some fellow we’d never heard of before today named Evan McMullin. When you throw in the very real possibility of that meaningless write-in vote we’re thinking of casting for Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse that’s at least eight possibilities, and we think that’s an octagonal choice but we’re not sure what the proper mathematical term is for an election with so many choices.
That McMullin fellow seems an intriguing possibility for a vote or two, based on one day’s reading of the news. So far as we can tell from the initial reports he’s a former Central Intelligence Agency official who shares our grave doubts about both the Republican and Democratic nominees’ foreign policy instincts, along with much of the rest of the erstwhile Republican Party’s foreign policy brain trust, as well as our objections to the Democrats’ typical liberal bossiness and the atypical authoritarianism of this crazy election year’s Republican nominee. He’s a bachelor, which would ordinarily raise alarms but somehow doesn’t in a crazy election year when the Republican nominee’s third wife can be seen stark naked in sapphic poses on the front page of the same New York City tabloid that has endorsed him and the Democratic nominee’s husband is the notorious cigar-trickster Bill Clinton. He’s already got a relatively well-funded “Super PAC” supporting his candidacy, he’s a Mormon from Utah, and except for a successful stint at the hated-by-left-and-right Goldman Sachs bank, which also has ties to the major party campaigns of this crazy year and the past several election cycles, he’s thus far scandal-free.
None of which gives any hope that he’s not just another Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but in this crazy election year we’ll consider whatever quixotic possibilities we can get, and whatever small way they might screw up that “binary election.” The relatively penurious “Super PAC” backing McMullin might wind up outspending the Republican this time around, and the national press will happily provide some of that “free media” that the Republican has long relied on in order to cut a few percentage points into the Republican’s poll numbers, and in the event of a unusually close election an upset win in the clean-living Mormon state of Utah could deprive either of those awful major party candidates an electoral majority and send it to the House of Representatives, where the erstwhile Republican majority might yet come up with someone more or less acceptable.
In an eight-way race where no one is particularly popular there are all sorts of possibilities. McMullin is already too late to get on the ballot in several states, but in those states where he does show up he’ll probably draw votes from people who would have reluctantly voted for the Republican if it truly had been a binary election. The Green Party nominee Jill Stein will probably get a similar number of votes from people who would have reluctantly supported the Democratic candidate if not given the option, and the Libertarian Gary Johnson will probably wind up denying a ore less equal number of potentially decisive votes from both of the major parties. The Constitutionalists and the Prohibitionists and the rest of the quadrennial cranks will also have their slight quixotic effect, and at this point we can only hope it all adds up to some providential vote of the erstwhile Republican House of Representatives and a more acceptable outcome..
There’s no discerning what vote might best bring about that miraculous conclusion to an otherwise disastrous election year, and in case it’s a long shot. The smart money bets that one of those two awful major party candidates will be the next president, and that either one of them will start out as the most unpopular president ever and go downhill from there, and it’s just too, too confusing to us to figure out which would be the worst outcome for such erstwhile Republicans as ourselves.
The most likely outcome, of course, is that one of those two unfit major party nominees will be the next president. In either case we’re quite sure that either will be as awful as the landslide majority of Americans expect, and at this point we’re mostly concerned that some principled opposition to both will be around in the aftermath with some integrity intact. In any case, we’re glad there’s some faint hope left that at least it’s not a binary choice.

— Bud Norman