At its online convention this weekend, on its second ballot, the Constitution Party nominated as its 2020 Presidential Candidate Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, and failed 2018 U.S. Senate candidate. The Constitution Party currently claims ballot access in fourteen states. Blankenship will also be on the ballot as the nominee of the unaffiliated Constitution Party of Idaho. Also, ballot access efforts are ongoing in Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Blankenship is the most well-known presidential candidate the Constitution Party has ever nominated. However, Blankenship might more rightly be considered infamous. In December 2015, he was convicted of conspiring to dodge federal health and safety standards at a mine where 29 miners died in 2010.
Released from prison in 2017, Blankenship did the only thing a disgraced CEO could do: blame others for the problems that occurred and run a flamboyant campaign in a Republican U.S. Senate race. In that campaign, Blankenship defined himself as “Trumpier than Trump.”
Like Trump, he handed out derogatory nicknames. He slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as “Cocaine Mitch.” However, while Trump’s nicknames sunk campaigns, McConnell embraced ‘Cocaine Mitch,’ creating a campaign t-shirt that has sold very well. Blankenship unleashed some racial language as part of his Trumpy effort as he attacked McConnell’s “China family,” a reference to McConnell’s wife (and U.S. Transportation Secretary) Elaine Chao.
Smarting from Roy Moore’s loss in the 2017 Special Alabama Senate election, the President urged West Virginia primary voters to reject Blankenship, and voters did with Blankenship blaming Trump for his loss.
Blankenship’s nomination is a minor concern for the Trump campaign. I’ve written that if U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, L-Mich., is on the ballot in November, it’s debatable where Amash’s support would come from. That’s true of most third-party candidates. Given the similarity between Trump and Blankenship, it’s tough to imagine support Blankenship support from anyone but Trump or those who wouldn’t vote otherwise. Also, Blankenship has shown an ability to get free media attention for his antics, and he’ll be on the ballot in the key swing states of Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, and Nevada.
However, potentially low ballot access numbers hinder his ability to gain media attention. What will be interesting to see is whether Blankenship will self-fund his ballot access and campaign efforts. He spent $4 million on his failed senate bid. That’s chump change in a presidential race, but it would be a massive windfall by Constitution Party standards. For example, the 2016 nominee Darrell Castle only raised $52,000.
The immediate fall out of Blankenship’s nomination assured that the Virginia Constitution Party would not be re-affiliating. The Virginia CP would like to support Justin Amash, and this is a state where the Libertarian Party doesn’t have ballot access. The LP could use the help if Amash is indeed the nominee.
For conservatives who thought the Constitution Party might produce a credible alternative for either this election or long-term, this nomination slams the door on both possibilities. If I wanted to support someone like Trump, I’d just back Trump. After a quarter of a century trying to differentiate itself from the Republicans, the Constitution Party has instead settled for “just like the Republicans only more so.”
The Constitution Party has weakened each election cycle with less ballot access for its presidential candidate and a slow bleeding of its affiliates through poor election performance and constant party schisms. Whether Blankenship’s nomination helps the party reverse its fortunes or hastens its flight to the ash heap of American political history remains to be seen. Whatever happens, if history’s any indicator, the only thing we can say for sure is that the Blankenship campaign won’t be uneventful.