James Webb to Consider Independent Candidacy

Jim Webb 2016 Presidential candidate

Image courtesy of webb2016.com

James Webb to Consider Independent Candidacy

| published October 20, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor


At least one Presidential candidate is considering running for the top job in the White House as an independent in 2016, and it is not Donald Trump.

James Webb, former Senator from Virginia and the former Secretary of the Navy, says he will drop out of the Democratic race for President and run instead on a third party ticket or as an independent, pending time to consider his options.

Webb’s campaign has not caught fire among Democrats, and as the weeks and days approaching the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary grow shorter, the Democratic race may continue to turn into a battle between progressive/socialist Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator from Vermont, and current front-runner Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State.

Clinton leads Sanders by a comfortable margin in most national polls, but some polls still show Sanders slightly ahead of Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Clinton has been boosted by a general assessment that she won the first major contest, a televised debate held in Las Vegas and broadcast on CNN earlier this month. Sanders also received high marks for his debate performance. Other in attendance in the debate included former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.

Webb’s performance in that debate was not seen as having helped his candidacy. Webb, a centrist on some issues and a conservative on others, often seemed ill-at-ease with the questions presented by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and others. Webb also generally failed to present compelling reasons for the mostly liberal crowd in attendance to consider his candidacy a viable alternative to either Clinton or Sanders.

Webb’s announcement was made at press conference held on Tuesday at the National Press Club, at which time he conceded that his campaign has so far not attracted Democrats. Webb also posted comments about his withdrawal on his campaign website, and he blamed a Democratic Party hierarchy which is disconnected from its base.

"For this reason," Webb said, "I am withrdrawing from any consideration of being the Democratic Party's nominee for the Presidency. This does not reduce in any way my concerns about the challenges facing our country...or my intentions to remain fully engaged in the debates that are facing us."

“How I remain a voice,” he told reporters, “will depend on what kind of support I’m shown in the coming weeks.” Translation: Webb will wait to confirm the rumors that he plans to run as an independent only after gauging his fundraising options and strategic blueprint.

The Democratic National Committee told reporters it is not prepared to make a public comment at this time. If Webb were to run as an independent, it is not clear if he would draw more support from those who identify as Democrats, or from those who consider themselves Republican.

Webb was pulling in only about one percent of support from Democrats in most polls, though some of the same polls express positive views of the former Virginia Senator.

Webb is considered a solid foreign policy analyst and a serious military thinker, but some of his positions are in sharp contrast to the predominant views of many Democrats. Webb is former Marine and a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. After serving in Vietnam, Webb returned to school to earn his law degree. Webb speaks fluent Vietnamese. He served as a staffer for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and under President Ronald Reagan served as Secretary of the Navy. In the 1980s, Webb was an outspoken advocate of increasing the size and scope of the U.S. Navy, and he was also known for his belief that the Marine Corps should be retooled to again become an elite fighting unit.

Webb cannot be easily characterized as a hawk or dove on issues of foreign intervention. Webb was wary of George H.W. Bush’s decision to escalate war during Operation Desert Shield, and worried aloud that Desert Storm—more commonly called the Gulf War, the battle fought to dislodge Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1990-1991. The U.S. fought alongside a large coalition which included the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Italy, Canada, Egypt, France, the UAE, and remnants of the Kuwaiti military. Webb wrote that the U.S. and its allies did not have a coherent military or political strategy, and worried that the U.S. would find itself stuck in a quagmire if the regime of Saddam were to topple. Though he supported the invasion of Afghanistan based on that country’s host relationship with al Qaeda, he was opposed of the Iraq invasion in 2003 for the same reason that he opposed military escalations in the Gulf War.

Webb is also a respected writer, and the author of more than ten books. Among his best known titles: Fields of Fire, which documents his experiences in the Vietnam War, and Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Webb also wrote the historical novel, the Emperor’s General, a work of fiction based on General Douglas MacArthur’s bitter retribution against the Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the only Japanese commander who remained undefeated by the British or the Americans.

Political observers say that it is unclear that if Webb runs as an independent, that he will attract many voters. Much depends on whether moderate and center-right Democrats are willing to use their general election vote to support an independent. Webb may also attract some Republicans. Regardless, Webb and his campaign team will need to step up their fundraising efforts early in 2016 in order to have the sort of cash reserves needed to run a viable independent campaign against the candidates of the two major parties. Webb reported that he raised about $697,000 during the previous quarter—far short of what was needed to remain a challenger to either Clinton or Sanders.

Webb’s announcement comes amidst a feverish wave of talk about a potential 2016 run by Vice-President Joe Biden. Rumors have been swirling for days that Biden may make a formal announcement this week.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Make or Break for a Biden Candidacy; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; October 16, 2015.

A Debate Over the Debate: Did Clinton Win?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; October 15, 2015.