Is Donald Trump secretly planning independent bid?

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll indicates that 68 percent of Trump's supporters would vote for him if launched a third-party candidacy. 

Susan Walsh/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves after speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington on Thursday.

What if Donald Trump’s secret plan, already formulated, is to bolt the Republican Party and run an independent bid for the White House in 2016?

Jeb Bush indicated as much on Tuesday, although to be fair, it’s not clear if Jeb! was serious or not.

The newest back-and-forth on this issue came Dec. 8 with the release of a new USA Today/Suffolk University poll that indicated 68 percent of Trump’s supporters would follow him out of the party and vote for him if he went ahead with a third-party candidacy. Only 18 percent said they’d stick with Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio, or George Pataki, or whoever wins the official GOP nod.

Trump, as is his wont, was gleeful about this latest statistical evidence of the hugeness of his impact on American politics. He tweeted the poll out and posted it on Facebook, perhaps as a warning to any GOP official thinking of bashing his proposal to bar US entry to non-citizen Muslims.

Enter Mr. Bush. He retweeted Trump’s post and added a comment.

“Maybe Donald negotiated a deal with his buddy @HillaryClinton. Continuing this path will put her in the White House,” Bush tweeted.

Look, we know Bush is not having a great week, what with the news that his super PAC has spent $50 million this year – almost half its initial cash haul – while his poll numbers have slid into the single digits.

But implying a conspiracy between the front-running GOP candidate and the Democrat’s likely nominee? Just because the Clintons attended Trump’s 2005 wedding, Bill Clinton called Trump for a private chat just weeks before Trump entered the race, and some of Trump’s nonimmigration positions are actually kind of liberal?

OK, it looks bad, but come on – Trump would have more direct ways of influencing the race if that’s all he wanted. Such as cash and/or his endorsement.

That said it still seems possible this does end up in a three-way general election. If Trump’s running for the attention, that’s a way to make sure the attention continues, even in the event of nominee Ted Cruz. If he’s running to push the US to the right on immigration, that is a method of keeping the issue at the forefront of news.

And in a nation closely divided between Republican and Democratic candidates, a Trump crashing the party could indeed make Bill Clinton first spouse.

“If all 68 percent of those 'Trump or bust' likely Republican voters are telling the truth about sticking with him if he runs third-party, we’re looking at something like 17-20 percent of the total vote next November going to Trump, way more than enough to wreck the GOP’s chances,” writes the right-leaning Allahpundit today at Hot Air.

Except that the chances are Trump really wouldn’t get that many votes. It’s hard and expensive to get on the ballot in all 50 states, and he might not make all the deadlines. Some states, such as Ohio and Michigan, have “sore loser” laws that might block Trump from getting on the ballot as anything but a Republican.

Third-party candidacies typically fade in the stretch – independent John Anderson went from 21 percent at the declaration of his candidacy in 1980 to 7 percent in the election. Ross Perot dropped from 24 percent to 19 percent in 1992.

And a Trump third-party candidacy might end up actually helping Republicans down-ballot. That’s Martin Longman’s theory at the leftish-leaning Political Animal blog of Washington Monthly, anyway.

Mr. Longman points out that many Trump voters are lower-income, less-educated whites who don’t often turn out to vote in high percentages. If Trump is running, either as the GOP nominee or an independent, they’ll have more incentive to go the polls. The total number of right-leaning voters will go up.

“And that ought to help down-ticket Republicans,” writes Longman. “So, what might doom their presidential candidate could well be what limits their losses in the congressional races.”

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