The 2020 Independent Presidential Path To Victory

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately, almost daily, about the 2020 presidential race and whether there will be an independent candidate. I presume its because I’m the last guy, with Evan McMullin, to actually try.

If you’re interested in my past experience on this matter, reading this and this will help you understand how we did all this in 2016, on a ridiculous timeline. And how I became an unfortunate expert on things like independent ballot access, minor parties and legal barriers.

But, for the interested public and press, I present this memo, which I wrote on request of an unnamed person or entity, in its entirety. It lays out a pretty comprehensive starting point for those wanting to better understand how a 2020 independent presidential campaign might happen.

Here’s hoping this inspires the kind of candidate I believe our nation desperately needs. We shall see.

A Memo For Interested Parties

Prepared by Joel Searby

Fall 2018


The 2020 presidential election will be an exercise in venturing into churning, uncharted waters for all who dare to enter. Any pundit, academic or operative telling you they have it figured out is either lying, naïve or out of their mind.

What 2016 taught us, though, is that amid the tumult, opportunities arise. Of this we can be certain: 2020 will present opportunities. The question is, will anyone be able to capitalize on those opportunities in a significant way to reshape the trajectory of our nation toward a more perfect union amidst dangerously divisive times? We should not take lightly the very real possibilities of further division, civil unrest and even violence should an independent effort succeed.

This memo seeks to name the potential opportunities available for an independent presidential candidacy, outline briefly the known processes and challenges and chart a possible path to victory should the right set of circumstances converge.


1. The Candidate

2. Political Environment

3. Mechanics

4. Timeline

5. Electoral College

6. Taking it to the House

The Candidate

I cannot overstate the absolute, total and foundational importance of the candidate. While the scope of this memo will not delve deeply into the type of candidate or possible names, history has taught us much on this front.

It is my strong bias and recommendation to any group that is serious about advancing an independent candidate in 2020 that at least 51% of the initial effort and resource of time go into helping surface, vet and support potential candidates in their decision-making process. The decision to run for president, no matter the circumstances, is, first and foremost, deeply personal. If the candidate has not fully counted the cost and if he or she is not fully committed and clear-eyed, no amount of great infrastructure or money will help.

Additionally, you should dispel yourself now of any myth that you can “recruit” or “choose” a candidate. And even if you could “recruit” someone to run I’m convinced that any candidate who is not running out of a deep personally calling or ambition or both, will not have a chance. It’s too hard and too grueling to put yourself and your family through unless you’ve got that “fire in the belly.”

This process can and should be open-minded, research-aided and thorough. Having done this, albeit too late, in 2016, I’d offer a few suggested steps and approaches:

  • Start with building the most comprehensive internal list possible of those who may qualify, regardless of party, willingness or location.
  • Assemble a small team of professionals and supporters to shepherd this process.
  • Design a simple, non-ideological initial filter for candidate identification. I’ve suggested one below.
  • Craft a basic memo outlining the players and processes underway, to demonstrate seriousness
  • Begin the outreach process, which should include:

1) Initial solid, direct contact established with the potential candidate

2) Float the idea, including a brief memo on the nature of the effort

3) If desired, meet with the person and/or their team to discuss

After this begins, it will take on a life of its own. There is, of course, the risk that you will end up encouraging several candidates to pursue the process. My take on this, however, is that you would have had that scenario anyways, most will ultimately decide not to run, and what better position could you have than to have been right in the middle of it — while building trust and relationships with these key folks?

Possible approach for candidate identification

NOTE: The following is adapted from what I prepared for Unite America in Governor’s and US Senate races.

Foundational Matrix

Criterion for Character & Integrity

(adapted from Forbes piece by Margaret Perlis)

1. Fortitude. Mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously; the strength of mind along with physical and moral courage to persevere in the face of adversity

2. Temperance/Responsibility. Self-discipline to control passions and appetites; being accountable, pursuing excellence, exercising self-restraint in action, statement; self-control

3. Prudence. Practical wisdom and the ability to make the right choice in specific situations

4. Justice/Fairness. Honesty, lawfulness, keeping promises; adherence to a balanced standard of justice without relevance to one’s own feelings or inclinations

5. Trustworthiness. Deserving of trust or confidence, dependable, reliable; honesty, integrity, loyalty; refraining from deception

6. Respect. Behavior toward others; civility, courtesy, decency, dignity, autonomy, tolerance, and acceptance; the prohibition of humiliation, manipulation, and exploitation

7. Caring. Honest expressions of benevolence and altruism

8. Citizenship. The state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties behavior in terms of the duties, obligations, and functions of a citizen

Criterion for Alignment

1) Is the potential candidate open to running as an independent?

2) Do they fall, ideologically, in the “center 40%” — that is, not holding extreme positions?

Criterion for Credibility and Viability

1. Can the candidate articulate in 2 minutes or less why they want to run?

2. Are their family and closest friends on board? If not, how opposed are they?

3. Can the candidate personally fund enough cash for 3 months of full national operations or demonstrably prove they can raise that amount within 60 days?

4. Does the candidate have existing name recognition as a public figure or both:

a. A demonstrably large enough network of validators and endorsers to get it quickly

b. A deeply compelling and newsworthy biography or personality

The Political Environment

When I use the phrase “political environment” in reference to the presidential race, I’m considering generally a combination of the following factors:

  • The Economy
  • World Affairs and the feeling of security or risk for the average US citizen
  • Whatever top 2–3 issues dominate the news (other than the president) at a given moment
  • The popularity or unpopularity of President Trump at a given moment
  • The mix of potential Democratic candidates at the forefront

***NOTE: This usually changes dramatically from a year out to the convention.

There is no way to predict what the political environment will be in 2019 and 2020. Instead, any serious effort should simply be very aware of it at any given moment, with a specific eye toward:

  • Opportunities for an independent to emerge publicly
  • The interplay between the type of candidate and the environmental factors — Example: In a national security crisis, a general may be a top contender
  • How the environment may help or hinder efforts like ballot access and recruitment


The mechanics of any presidential campaign are complex, massive and require much deeper thought than I can address here. However, three fundamental areas of any successful effort need to be recognized, considered and addressed. Those areas are:

- Ballot access

- Candidate & Support Organizations

- Fundraising

Ballot Access

There are at least 5 ways to give voters across America the opportunity to vote for an independent candidate. It is my recommendation that any serious group at least consider using every tool at its disposal to ensure the candidate can run a truly national campaign with the widest ballot access possible.

1) Conventional petition signature gathering

Every state has different rules and thresholds. Some are relatively easy. Others are very difficult. I have a comprehensive database of these requirements and, if needed, can discuss this further.

2) Minor parties with presidential ballot lines

There are parties in a number of states who could nominate an independent for President, using their existing ballot line. This was the case with several minor parties in 2016 who ended up nominating Evan McMullin.

3) Starting a new party

A few efforts along these lines are already underway at least in the nascent stages. This is an incredibly heavy lift in some places but is a very viable, simple option in others. This approach was also used in 2016 with a new “Better for America” party formed in New Mexico, for example, which endorsed and gave its ballot line to McMullin.

4) A legal challenge in states whose requirements are too onerous

There are already efforts underway to do this the outcomes of which are unknown. There may be some states where legal victories would lower the challenges but would still require a candidate to gain access through some number of traditional means be that signature gathering or otherwise.

5) Write-ins

Write in candidacies, while challenging, are another option. This should be pursued only in cases where no other viable options exist. There is some history (though not given enough attention) of large-scale successful write-ins.

Candidate and Support Organizations

There are a number of ways a candidate can organize and be supported by others. Any successful effort will almost certainly include all of the following groups working together, under the law, for the ultimate success of the candidate. It should be noted that some of these functions could be achieved through existing organizations or, at a minimum, in cooperation with existing organizations or even, in some cases, the “take-over” of those organizations.

The following is a simple outline and not meant to be exhaustive. Each of these organizations will need, at the proper time, to build out full-blown strategic plans, budgets and timelines.

These organizational mechanics could include, depending on the stage:

- The Campaign

- 501 ©4’s

- 501 ©3’s

- Super PAC(s)

- Traditional Federal PACs

- Congressional Leadership Funds

- Others as deemed appropriate


One of the most challenging aspects of attempted independent presidential efforts in the past has been raising enough funds to compete. It is my opinion that the money is available. That is, there is plenty of liquid cash in the United States in the hands of people who would be willing and able to give it. The problem has been aligning enough resources behind each of the above organizations and around a single candidate.

Pieces and parts of the equation have existed before. Examples would include Peter Ackerman’s American’s Elect effort ($30 million+), Jeb Bush’s Super PAC though not independent, indicative ($100 million+), Bernie Sander’s grassroots fundraising, again indicative ($257 million+) and Ross Perot’s effort ($64 million+.)

These efforts would require, as with every element in this memo, thorough strategic planning from each entity bought-in. But the following outline lays out the necessary “pots” of money and very rough estimates for what each would need to be competitive.


  • $15,000,000 seed money either self-financed or raised within the first 30 days
  • $50,000,000 raised by 100 days in
  • $500,000,000 total raised & spent over the course of the campaign

Ballot Access — Outside Efforts (this does not include what a candidate may do on their own)

  • $50,000,000 high estimate — This would include almost entirely funding a from-scratch effort
  • $10,000,000 low estimate — This would entail a hybrid model, heavily dependent on the candidate gaining ballot access on their own in at least half the necessary states

Outside groups

  • **NOTE: all estimates rough, based on moderate but serious national efforts

501 ©3’s & 4’s

  • $10,000,000
  • These groups would conduct critical voter education and independent messaging efforts, especially in key states

Super PAC(s)

  • $10,000,000 in early funds (first 90 days)
  • $250,000,000 total spend over election cycle
  • These groups are essential in their ability to raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals and thus raise and spend much higher sums much more quickly to ensure early traction

Traditional Federal PACs, Congressional Leadership Funds & others

  • These groups are limited in their utility but will become strategically important for coalition building, signaling of support among currently elected officials and, critically, if the election goes to the House of Representatives.

The Timeline

Timing is critical in every political endeavor. The prospect of running an independent presidential campaign is no exception. I’d contend that timing is one of, if not the most important element outside the candidate. Tied closely with timing is sequencing. They are interdependent.

I am strongly biased toward a “latest possible” launch. What I mean by this, though, is critical to understand. The operative question is: working backwards from the election, what non-negotiable milestones must be completed in order for a candidacy to be viable? This dictates everything. Once this is established you can determine a “window” within which a launch is possible, then optimize the launch to the political environment.

I’m breaking the timeline into three distinct and key sections:

  1. Path to Viability
  2. Path to Launch
  3. Path to Victory

Path to Viability

First, I’ll lay out the rough sequencing necessary for a candidacy to get to viability. This is not exact but gives a solid approximation of the steps. It is inclusive of both inside (campaign) and outside (other organizations) efforts.

1) National media narrative shaping (outside)

2) Organizational and Key Influencer meetings (outside)

3) Candidate Outreach and Shepherding (outside)

4) Candidate decision (inside)

5) Strategic planning, timelines, budgets (both)

6) Research (both)

7) Ballot Access Planning*** (both)

8) Exploratory Launch (inside)

9) Fundraising (both)

10) Ballot Access Begins (both)

11) Official Launch (inside)

12) Campaign (inside)

- There are million and one steps here — for brevity these are omitted for now

- ***NOTE: There are a number of scenarios, as outlined, where this can begin independent of a candidate.

Path to Launch

In terms of what this means practically, based solely on ballot access requirements, it is my opinion that the latest possible launch of the above efforts is July of 2019. So, a potential actual timeline could look something like:

1) November 2018: National media narrative shaping (outside)

2) November 2018 — March 2019: Organizational and Key Influencer meetings (outside)

3) January — May 2019: Candidate Outreach and Shepherding (outside)

4) May 2019: Candidate decision (inside)

5) May — June 2019: Strategic planning, timelines, budgets (both)

6) May — June 2019: Research (both)

7) May — June 2019: Ballot Access Planning*** (both)

8) July 2019: Exploratory Launch (inside)

9) July 2019: Fundraising (both)

10) August 2019: Ballot Access Begins (both)

11) October 2019: Official Launch (inside)

Path to Victory

The following outline makes some major assumptions:

1) Viability has been achieved and a strong, legitimate campaign has been mounted.

2) The election is headed to an outcome where no candidate reaches 270 electoral votes

3) The election will be decided by the House of Representatives

If this is the case, then there are a number of key things that will need to be happening to lay the groundwork for a win. They are:

1) Entity/s established to lead the House of Representatives effort (including seed funds)

2) Strategic plans, timelines and budgets created

3) Entities funded

4) National public opinion and opinion-leader shaping influence effort

a. Includes a significant “explainer” effort to avoid confusion and civil unrest

5) “Whip” operation formed (to lobby, track and strategize specific votes in the House)

6) Election outcome complete

7) Full-court press lobbying and whip effort

a. Culminates in a House vote

The Electoral College

Like much of this work, predicting an electoral college path is impossible. We can, however, visualize some potential scenarios, based on 2016 results and other known factors, where an independent could prevent either major party candidate from reaching 270.

Below I outline a number of those scenarios, visually, to show possible paths. The objective is not to delve deeply into every state, as that will require much further study — but to envision possible scenarios, though you may quibble with some. There are many other possible scenarios. To try some on your own, visit 270 to Win.

A Note About Faithless Electors/ Bargaining:

There is the legal possibility of “faithless electors” choosing not to cast their electoral votes for the candidate their state chose by popular vote. This scenario is complex, though possible, and would require in-depth legal study and strategy. A possible scenario could unfold as such:

“A candidate might simply persuade the electors chosen to support him on [election day] to cast their ballots for someone else. Indeed, electors could do so on their own, since the Constitution makes them free agents. In every state, they run on a party or independent-candidate slate; but no pledge in advance to any party, to any candidate, or to the voters binds the electors after their slate has carried the state. They could even vote for someone who had not run in the November election.”


If the election appeared clearly headed for a split scenario or to the House, negotiations of this type could and should be engaged. A separate strategy, both legal and political, would need to be developed for this approach.

With all this in mind, let’s explore a number of possible scenarios in the electoral college, starting with the baseline of the 2016 actual results.

Possible Electoral College Scenarios

***Note, all scenarios created using 270 to Win

The Baseline — 2016 State Results

#1 — Mtn West/Plains (MT, WY, CO, SD, NE, KS) + One Swing (MI) + states w/ IND history (MN, ME)

#2 — Two Swing (MI, FL) + Two states w/ IND history (MN, ME)

#3 — Florida + Ohio

#4 — Midwest (WI, IA, MO, IL, IN)

#5 — Center-Right Star Takes Swings (NV, CO, NM,FL, OH, IN, VA, PA) + Two states w/ IND history (MN, ME)

#6 — Center-Left Star Takes Swings (NV, CO, NM,FL, OH, IN, VA, PA)+ Three Dem Strongholds (IL, NY, MD)

#7 — Complete Trump Collapse

Taking it to the House

Here’s how the National Archives describes the constitutional process if no presidential candidate gets 270 Electoral votes:

If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.


For some additional historical context, “Two presidential elections have been decided in the House of Representatives and four others, including the elections of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and John F. Kennedy in 1960, have come within 30,000 votes of requiring a decision by the House. Three others, in 1912, 1924, and 1968, came close.”


But what does this really mean, in practice? The short answer is that any independent candidate who wants to be successful in the house scenario will need — in addition to the obvious qualities of being personally qualified, appealing and able to bring the country together — a serious operation to “whip” or corral votes from enough delegations to win the presidency.

It is important to understand, then, the forces that can influence these house delegations — tangible, political, relational and psychological. In this scenario each representative will be faced with a complex set of factors to weigh including the will of the people of their state or district, their political party loyalties, donor loyalty, game-theory considerations of what might play out and perhaps most importantly, what personal relationships and power dynamics they have at stake.

Against that backdrop, here are some over-simplified logistics and possible scenarios:

Basic Process for a House Scenario

1. General Election

2. Electoral College Casts Votes

3. Lame Duck Congress passes rules governing upcoming fight

4. New House of Representatives Sworn In

5. House Votes on President

6. Inauguration

Possible House Delegation Breakdown

The coloring signifies which party has a majority of the house delegation in that state.

Possible Balance of Power in January, 2021

*As noted, each state congressional delegation gets one vote.

- Republican — 24

- Democrat — 26

- Independent — 0

The following scenarios explain possible set-ups and outcomes in the house vote.

Possible House Breakdown #1 — Delegation Majority Rules

In this scenario, house delegations simply vote party line, irrespective of the electoral votes of their states and, the Democrats having captured the house, choose their nominee.

OUTCOME: Democrat is elected

- Republican — 24

- Democrat — 26

- Independent — 0

***NOTE: This scenario would require the Democrats not only to take the house (numerically), which is a realistic scenario but to take a MAJORITY in some states that are overwhelmingly Republican right now in order to get to 26 states where they are the majority in the delegation.

Possible House Breakdown #2 — Will of the People (based on Scenario #7 in EC Maps)

In this scenario each state’s delegation simply casts their vote as their electoral college did. While the Independent didn’t reach 270, they have 27 states and would have a majority of house delegations under this scenario, electing the independent.

OUTCOME: Independent wins

- Republican — 5

- Democrat — 18

- Independent — 27

Possible House Breakdown #3 — Will of the People (based on Scenario #5 in EC Maps)

In this scenario each state’s delegation again simply casts their vote as their electoral college did. While Trump didn’t reach 270, he has 26 states and would have a majority of house delegations under this scenario, electing the independent.

OUTCOME: Trump is re-elected

- Republican — 26

- Democrat — 14

- Independent — 10

Possible House Breakdown #4 — Democrats make deals to stop Trump

In this scenario one Republican delegation and 8 Democratic delegations, whose states voted for the independent, cast their votes for the independent. Realizing they don’t have the votes to elect the independent, Democrats band together, coalesce and vote for their nominee after the first (or a series) of votes.

OUTCOME: Democrat is elected


- Republican — 23

- Democrat — 18

- Independent — 9


Scenario: Democrats convince IND voting delegations to join them to stop Trump.

- Republican — 24

- Democrat — 26

- Independent — 0

Possible House Breakdown #5 — Republicans make deals to stop the Democrat

In this scenario 12 Democratic delegations, whose states voted for the independent, cast their votes for the independent on the first vote. Realizing they only need to peel off two independent votes, Republicans cut deals to pull in those two delegations and vote for their nominee on the second (or after a series) votes.

OUTCOME: Trump is re-elected


- Republican — 24

- Democrat — 14

- Independent — 12


Scenario: Republicans convince 2 delegations supporting the IND to flip

- Republican — 26

- Democrat — 14

- Independent — 10

Possible House Breakdown #6 — The Independent becomes the compromise candidate

In this scenario 12 Democratic delegations, whose states voted for the independent, cast their votes for the independent on the first vote hoping to stop Trump. Democrats within four state delegations, along with Republicans, determine that the best course for the nation is to elect the independent as a compromise. After a series of votes, delegations are moved behind the independent, resulting in his or her election.

OUTCOME: Independent is elected


- Republican — 24

- Democrat — 14

- Independent — 12


Scenario: 4 Republican delegations move to the independent

- Republican — 20

- Democrat — 14

- Independent — 14


Scenario: 6 Democratic delegations move to the independent, joining the 4 Republican delegations

  • Republican — 20
  • Democrat — 8
  • Independent — 22


Scenario: Independent secures 2 more Democratic delegations and 2 more Republican delegations, becomes President

  • Republican — 18
  • Democrat — 6
  • Independent — 26


- It’s really hard, but it’s possible.

- Only someone who is deeply committed will even consider taking it on.

- Who the heck knows if anyone will.

Disciple, Husband, Father, Friend.

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