Mark Trahant: Indian Republican Tom Cole backs Donald Trump

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) is a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Photo from Flickr

#NativeVote16 -Tom Cole says he’s more worried about Clinton than Trump
By Mark Trahant
Trahant Reports

So what is a Republican candidate for Congress to do? Support Donald Trump and some of his nonsensical policies? Or back a third-party candidate who has little chance of winning?

Oklahoma’s Tom Cole says a simple decision. He said he’s a Republican. He’s on the ballot as a Republican and he will support the nominee of the party. So yes, he’s supporting Donald Trump.

“I’m a lot more concerned about Hillary Clinton than I am about Donald Trump,” Cole said, according to the Oklahoma-based blog, web site NonDoc.

Cole said there are issues he disagrees with Trump and will continue to do so, such as Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the country.

“Number one, it’s unconstitutional. It’s pretty clear, if you read the Constitution, we can’t impose religious tests for anything," Cole told the site. "And second, we need Muslims in this fight as (they are) a lot of the best friends our country has around the world.”

Cole said he worked with Clinton and she is effective, even when he disagrees with her ideologically. He said her election would be a continuation of Barack Obama’s policies.

And, according to NonDoc, Cole, who is a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, said that’s not all bad. “I always joke, I’ve probably got more Obama pictures — I have five Obama pictures on the wall in my house, because four of them are Indian legislation that’s passed. So we’ve worked on some things together. But, I think we’ve got a very different view of what the appropriate level of taxation and regulation is. And somebody that’s going to defend Obamacare, for instance, we just disagree. Philosophically, I am certainly to the right of Secretary Clinton.”

Cole and many others who are in the Republican Party recognize the ballot challenges of running with Trump and the difficulty of a conservative running as a third party candidate.

First, there is the problem of ballot access. Many states have filing deadlines that make it difficult for independent candidates to get on all 50 state ballots. As I have reported earlier, even established parties, such as the Libertarian and the Green parties, have not been able to do that. (Previous: How does a country with a rigged, two party system reinvent itself as a multiparty democracy?)

Second, there is a fun, practical problem. A third-party candidate means splitting the vote in the all-important contest to win states (and electoral college votes). Let’s take Montana as an example. You could make the case that Jon Tester won re-election in Montana in part because of the 31,892 votes that Dan Cox earned as the Libertarian Party candidate. Tester won re-election with 236,123 votes while the Republican Denny Rehberg had 218,051 votes. I don’t think every Libertarian vote would have gone for the Republican, but in a three-way race, it’s hard to know exactly. Now imagine this three-way choice in the presidential race: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and a third-party conservative challenger. I would guess that a conservative would do far better than Dan Cox, maybe even getting more votes than Donald Trump. But would it be enough to win Montana? That I doubt. What it would do is put Montana in play for the Democrats.

Conservatives could also get serious about the Libertarian Party. The party’s likely nominee is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. He’s also a former Republican. The Libertarian Party convention is at the end of this month. But again, the question has to be, what states can Libertarians win?

And what about a third-party challenge by Bernie Sanders? On Twitter there is more and more talk of such a possibility. Again, the ballot access requirements make that problematic. And even if it did happen, what states could Sanders win in a four-way race? There is really no way to answer that question.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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