Due to sore loser laws in many states that will prevent Trump from running as an independent after failing to secure the Republican nomination, he cannot run a successful third party candidacy. But he could get on the ballot in some red states, split the vote, and hand Electoral College delegates to Clinton or Sanders. I can see him doing that out of spite.I'm seeing speculation about that in my comments. But I don't see it happening.
As it turns out, the "sore loser" laws that prevent losing primary candidates from running as independents in general elections apply to presidential candidates only in a couple of states -- two states according to Ballotpedia, three according to CNN.
However, one of the states where this is an impediment is Texas. It's probably already too late for Trump to run third party there:
No Republican, no conservative can win the presidency without Texas’ 38 electoral votes. So, what does it take to get an independent presidential candidate on the Texas ballot? Petitions have to be filed there by May 9, complete with valid signatures of nearly 80,000 voters who did not vote in the March 1 Texas primaries.But that's if Trump wants to bail on the GOP now. We're all assuming, I think correctly, that he'll go to the convention with the most delegates, and he'll fight to win there. If he starts a third-party run, it'll be only after he's thwarted at the convention (if he is thwarted).
The Republican convention is July 18-21. At that point, the filing deadline for independent candidates will have already passed in Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. The deadline is July 21 in Michigan, July 23 in Washington State, and July 25 in Missouri. So Trump would fail to make a lot of ballots if he got started that late.
But hey, he could find a party with ballot access that would nominate him, right? Probably not. The Libertarian Party is choosing its candidate before the GOP -- its convention takes place May 27-30. The Constitution Party's convention is April 13-17.
But would Trump seek to run third party anyway, to spite the GOP? It just doesn't seem like his style. The average Trump supporter thinks Trump can push people around and get what he wants. Trump encourages that belief. Why would he want to start in on a third-party campaign in which he can't bully his way onto the ballots of more than a dozen states, and therefore doesn't really have the mathematical possibility of winning the election? Wouldn't that make him look like a loser?
And if it's clear that he's doing this just to hurt the GOP candidate, doesn't that, in effect, make him a Hillary Clinton surrogate? I know a lot of conspiracy theorists think that was the point of his run all along -- he and his friends the Clintons plotted out his run in order to destroy the GOP and clear the way for a Hillary victory. I think that's crazy -- how many people besides Trump himself thought his campaign would be anything other than comic relief? -- but beyond that, I think his evolution into a conservative is sincere. Sure, he's not an ideologically pure right-winger on many issues, but his anger is that of an enraged Fox News viewer. Political correctness is evil! Obama is leading from behind! And that makes sense. Trump is a white male senior citizen living in America. Of course he thinks what's said on Fox makes a lot of sense.
But even if he's not the GOP nominee and doesn't run third party, won't Trump continue to dominate the media? And won't he take advantage of that to tear down the Republican nominee? I think he'll get airtime, but not nearly as much. There'll be no rallies to be aired in full on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. That means there'll be no viral R-rated soundbites cheered on by huge crowds; there'll be no sucker punches and pepper sprayings. There'll just be Trump phoning in to various shows -- and at that point he really will be a loser. He won't be the same ratings draw he is now.
So I think he'll just slink away. Maybe he'll sue someone. Maybe he'll sue a lot of people. Maybe he'll just threaten to sue a lot of people and never actually do it. But I think it's go big or go home for him.