Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a CNN political expert and a Princeton University professor of history. He has written and edited 25 books including the New York Times bestseller, "Myth America: Historians take on the biggest lies and legends about our past" (Basic Books). Follow him on Twitter @URL. This commentary is his opinion. CNN has more opinions.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia seems to be considering running for President in 2024. Manchin told NBC in December that he would not make a final decision until the end the year. However, he spoke last week to a group Iowa community and business leaders, praising himself for being 'fiscally and socially responsible'
Senator Manchin has made independence her calling card. She is a constant headache for President Joe Biden, and the slim Democratic Senate majority. She holds up important legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act. Manchin's third-party run (or a split ticket with a Republican) could cost Biden his reelection.
Manchin says that the health of his country is his primary concern, and he states, "Honestly to God, how do we save our nation?" How can we get people to work together in order to preserve the values we were taught and the quality of our lives? If that was true, then the senator should consider the possible damage his actions could cause to the country if they helped former President Donald Trump secure a second term.
Manchin, despite all the controversy he causes, could appeal to moderate Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents who are worried about a second Biden tenure and looking for a candidate who -- at least theoretically -- would move American politics towards the center. The senator has been working hard to criticize key aspects of the administration's policy, including climate change regulations. (Which he helped pass). The senator could easily steal votes from the president, especially in swing states. Voters may not be as trusting of the progressive Biden who has been in the spotlight in recent years than the moderate Biden of 1990. Manchin's entry into the race is a risky move, given Biden’s low poll numbers.
Manchin, if he teams up with a Republican, could steal votes away from the GOP. Republicans are still enthusiastic about their favorite candidate, the former president Trump. Republicans who don't want to support Trump have several choices for the Republican primaries. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence are all likely candidates. Ron DeSantis.
Third-party candidates have a poor record of success, but can still have an effect - such as undermining a major candidate. Theodore Roosevelt, the former president, ran for the Progressive Party in 1912. This split the Republican vote and helped Woodrow Wilson to win.
In 1968, the former Alabama governor. George Wallace was the face of Southern resistance to civil rights, and the voice for conservative populist rage. He won enough disaffected Democrats to support Republican nominee Richard Nixon through the American Independent Party.
Ross Perot was the Reform Party candidate in 1992 and won over 18% of votes. Many experts think that he was a major factor in the downfall of George H.W. Bush's campaign was a success because conservatives liked his populist tendencies, his emphasis on deficit reduction, and his attacks against Washington. Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate in 2000, won enough Florida votes to reduce Vice President Al Gore’s total. This led to a heated recount which culminated in the election of George W. Bush. In 2016, Democrats accused third-party candidates Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and others of helping Donald Trump win the election.
Not all third party candidacies have the same value. In 1948, Strom Thurmond, a Dixiecrat, left the Democratic Party and ran for President as a Dixiecrat. This was in response to Hubert Humphrey's remarks that supporters of states rights should join the fight for civil rights. Thurmond established a path for the transformation of South, from a region that was dominated by Democrats, to one that Republicans have consolidated a stronghold on, taking advantage of the resistance against desegregation, and the civil right movement. Democrat Harry Truman won reelection over Republican Thomas Dewey. But Thurmond's victories against the Republicans in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina marked a pivotal moment in party loyalty.
There are plenty of other third-party campaigns which have little impact. Perot's 1996 second attempt was much less important. Bill Clinton's lead over Republican candidate Bob Dole was so large that Perot's candidacy as a third party seemed meaningless. Lyndon LaRouche's endless campaigning is also a curiosity.
Manchin's run could fall under the first category. He would be able to take enough votes away from his current Democratic Party, making it easier for Republicans to win. We live in a time of tight elections and landslides such as 1936, 1972, or 1984 are rare. Manchin only needs to win enough votes within a few states to make a significant impact. He could become the Ralph Nader 2024. If Manchin were to decide to run in the 2024 election, he could very well hand the keys to Trump so that he can finish what the former President couldn't accomplish during his turbulent first term.