Election 2016: Jim Webb, Independent Candidate?
On Tuesday Jim Webb became the latest presidential primary candidate to drop his bid. However, unlike Rick Perry and Scott Walker (who withdrew earlier in the race), Webb has not bowed out of the race entirely. In fact, his drop-out speech had more of the hallmarks of call to arms than of a surrender.
It seems now that the former senator and secretary of the Navy is mulling an independent bid. In his concession speech, he pointed out many of the talking points such a candidacy might rely on, such as the fact that most Americans identify as neither Republican nor Democrat and that most citizens are fed up with how the two parties currently operate.
In some ways, Webb does speak to a constituency that has been abandoned by the Democratic party, namely working class, particularly rural, white voters. This constituency, once the backbone of the Democratic strategies, has fallen ever further into the Republican orbit. This move has not harmed Democratic nominees in national contests overmuch, especially considering the newer and growing constituencies it appeals to continue to tilt the presidential math in favor of the Democrats nationally.
Can Webb tap that base as an independent in a way he couldn’t as a Democrat? Maybe, but probably not.
It’s true that there is a large constituency of voters who ought to be responsive to what Webb is selling. Many Americans want greater social protections and public support while also wanting to keep their guns and religion. There are many who support both improving the lot of the poor while also improving the capacity and power of the military.
Americans certainly deserve more diversity in the mixes of policy menus they can choose between. Today they have to choose between two parties pushed in the primaries to extreme versions of themselves that can alienate many. Even with the opportunities created by Citizens United to raise sufficient funds for a national campaign outside of party structures, it is still extremely difficult to do so thanks to both structural barriers and voters’ psychological inertia (which causes them to view the two existing parties as the only “legitimate” parties that could exist).
It would take a powerful character and a great deal of resources to break that inertia and create a viable independent candidacy. Unfortunately for Mr. Webb’s hopes, he has neither. His performance in the debate displayed a man without the necessary polish or poise to look credible as an outside-the-mainstream challenger. And his dismal fundraising so far hardly bodes well for a successful second act.
I for one hope he excludes a run. While it might get him more than the minimal attention he’s gotten so far, he will only succeed in looking like an out-of-touch old man with no chance of winning. Let someone else lead the paradigm shift, Mr. Webb.