Today, the Republican Party finds itself in a precarious position despite holding a majority in Congress and, ostensibly, the presidency. While President Trump did run with the Republican nomination, a closer look at his political origins suggests voters elected a third-party candidate instead.
It is easily forgotten that President Donald Trump sought the presidency once before. Trump’s first official foray into the realm of presidential politics was the 2000 presidential election when he briefly ran in the Reform Party’s presidential primary, only to be edged out by conservative commentator, Pat Buchanan.
In some ways, his 2000 presidential run would sew the seeds for his unexpected success in 2016.
The Reform Party grew out of Ross Perot’s substantial showing in the 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns. In 2000, the Reform Party maintained ballot access in all 50 states and qualified for public campaign funds. Trump very publicly left the Republican Party in 1999, calling it “too crazy right” in an interview on Meet the Press. He then registered with the Reform Party shortly thereafter.
Gov. Jesse Ventura was a vocal proponent of Trump’s Reform Party bid at the time and recounted the causes behind Trump’s early exit from the campaign in Time Magazine last year:
“Back in the 1990s, Donald was interested in running for office as an Independent, and he was there when Pat Buchanan came in with these legions of people (who were backed by the Republican Party) and took over the Reform party, got the nomination and then didn’t even run. Buchanan took the money we raised (at that point, we had quite a large national base thanks to Ross Perot and myself) and he used that money to retire his previous campaign debts. He had no intention of using our campaign money to run for president and that’s what destroyed the Reform party. This was all done by design so that the Reform party would no longer be a threat to the Republicans.”
If Gov. Ventura is to be believed, then the ghost of Christmas past came back in a big way last year. In a strange twist of fate, the Reform Party’s platform, built primarily on anti-globalist and anti-corruption policies, became the hallmark of Trump’s “America First” and #draintheswamp campaign, superseding the Republican Party’s traditional platform, which typically centers around conservative social values and global free trade.
So did the Reform Party actually win in 2016? Perhaps not, but one could argue that the Republican Party didn’t win either.