There’s no suitable presidential candidate for millions of Americans

Even so, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of a third-party bid.
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. introduces Nicole Shanahan as his running mate on March 26 in Oakland, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. introduces Nicole Shanahan as his running mate on March 26 in Oakland, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

No Labels stood down from fielding a third-party presidential ticket, but that doesn’t mean American voters are falling in line with the 2024 rematch between President Biden and former president Donald Trump.

Just the opposite.

Most believe our country deserves better than a contest between an 81-year-old incumbent whose physical and mental capacity are headed in the wrong direction and a twice-impeached 77-year-old challenger struggling to pay his legal bills. This opinion is shared by 70 percent of voters on both sides of the aisle.

I get it: From the challenge of ballot access to lack of infrastructure to a system inherently designed for two political parties, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of a third-party bid. It’s been more than 30 years since H. Ross Perot’s 19 percentage points affected a presidential contest (some of my Democratic friends might have a different point of view involving Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan in Florida in 2000).

In a normal year, unpacking the purpose of a third party takes time. Not so this year.

Where does that leave people like me who refuse to “hold their nose” and vote for Trump or “stand up for democracy” and support Biden? Nowhere good. With his unorthodox views and borderline conspiracy theories, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is not a realistic or appealing exit ramp, either — although his support among younger voters should not be discounted.

Beyond the widespread disapproval numbers for the leading candidates (62 percent of voters view Biden unfavorably, nearly identical to the 60% who view Trump identically), 2024 is shaping up to be unprecedented in another area. Not since 1892 and Grover Cleveland have a former and current president squared off in a general election. Trump and Biden are essentially both incumbents, complicating efforts to project and forecast.

Here’s what we do know: In 2020, Biden won by 4.5 percentage points in the popular vote, second only to Barack Obama’s 2008 victory for the largest margin this century. Biden’s victory in the electoral college was 306 to 232, powered by his flipping five states Trump carried in 2016: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

A comfortable win at first glance, but not so with a deeper dive. Biden won Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin and their 37 combined electoral votes by a total of less than 45,000 votes. Put those back in the Republican column, and suddenly Biden and Trump are knotted at 269 each — one short of the magic 270 to win.

Biden’s anemic polling numbers are further complicating matters. A January Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed Trump leading Biden 45 percent to 37 percent. Nearly two-thirds of voters (62 percent) disapprove of Biden’s presidency in our state.

No matter how it’s sliced and diced, we’re headed toward a nail biter of a rematch.

With No Labels on the shelf, expect the buzz around Kennedy to continue. He is polling as high as 13 percent in a national Quinnipiac University survey. As a nephew of President John F. Kennedy, his name carries cache and instant recognition. Yes, his views on vaccines and in other areas have and will continue to receive withering scrutiny, but Kennedy is doing something that no one else has this cycle: offer voters a different option than the two before them that they do not want.

Kennedy’s durability thus far is less about his strengths than the weaknesses of Biden and Trump. America should be able to do better than a someone facing serious and numerous criminal charges or an octogenarian first elected to public office during the Nixon administration. But that’s not Kennedy.

Absent an act of God (or maybe a judge), it appears those are the choices before us. Millions of Americans are poised to vote in November not for a president they want but out of a sense of disappointed resignation. It’s an unhappy prospect, to say the least, and the current electoral helplessness many are feeling is unpleasant. We would be well served to avoid this scenario in future elections. It has left me and many others wondering: Is this really the best our country can do?

A CNN contributor, Geoff Duncan served as Georgia’s lieutenant governor from 2019 to 2023. He is a former professional baseball player, and the author of “GOP 2.0: How the 2020 Election Can Lead to a Better Way Forward for America’s Conservative Party.”