'I Was Killing Fascists When You Punks Were In Diapers': America's Colorful Fringe Candidates

Third party presidential candidates Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) have a lot of work to do if they want to crack the top 10 of most successful fringe candidates. At the top of that list is none other than former President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, who was born 158 years ago this week.

In honor of the occasion, we put together a look back at America's most successful third party candidates, ranked by popular vote. 

1. Theodore Roosevelt, 1912

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After serving as America's 26th president from 1901-1909, Teddy Roosevelt started a civil war in the Republican party by challenging incumbent President William Howard Taft for the 1912 GOP nomination. When he lost the nomination, Roosevelt went rogue, joining the Progressive 'Bull Moose' Party so that he could fight Taft in the general election.

Roosevelt ended up winning 27.39 percent of the popular vote and 88 out of 531 votes in the electoral college, which was enough to beat Taft. But Democrat Woodrow Wilson became president.

2.  Millard Fillmore, 1856

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Roosevelt wasn't the only former commander-in-chief to come out of retirement and run for a third party. In 1856, Millard Fillmore -- the 13th U.S. President (1850-1853) -- joined the upstart American Party. That group formed after Fillmore's former party -- the Whigs -- fell apart after his administration.

Fillmore garnered 21.54 percent of popular vote but didn't win any votes in the electoral college. Democrat James Buchanan won the election. But at least he's still remembered as Alec Baldwin's doppelgänger

3. John C. Breckenridge, 1860

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The power vacuum created by the disintegration of the Whig Party also gave rise to the pro-slavery Southern Democrats Party. Their 1860 presidential candidate was President Buchanan's VP: John C. Breckenridge, who won 18.20 percent of popular vote and 72 of 303 electoral votes. Republican Abraham Lincoln won that year. 

4. Ross Perot, 1992

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The feisty Texan gave incumbent George H.W. Bush (R) and challenger Bill Clinton (D) a run for their money during the 1992 election. At one point, the Independent candidate had a considerable lead over his mainstream rivals. But in the end, Perot only mustered 18.91 percent of the popular vote and no electoral votes. The election would go to Clinton.

5. Robert M. La Follette, 1924

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In 1924, a reincarnation of Roosevelt's Progressive Party rose to challenge incumbent President Calvin Coolidge (R). Their candidate was former Wisconsin Governor Robert Marion "Fighting Bob" La Follette. Despite having one of the best nicknames in American electoral history, La Follette only gained 16.62 percent of the popular vote and 13/531. Coolidge won the election.

6. George Wallace, 1968

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After losing the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1964, former Alabama Governor George Wallace ran for president as the leader of the newly formed American Independent Party. He ended up taking 13.53 percent of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes.

He also gave us one of the most memorable quotes in campaign history. Wallace was an outspoken hater of hippies. So when younger voters accused him of being a fascist, he once quipped, "I was killing fascists when you punks were in diapers."

7. John Bell, 1860


Remember that power vacuum following the break up of the Whig Party? Well, that political turmoil also gave us the Constitutional Union Party, which is famous for trying to ignore the issue of slavery. (And you thought climate change deniers like Donald Trump were bad.) Presidential candidate John Bell -- a.k.a. The Great Apostate -- managed to siphon 12.62 percent of the popular vote and 39 of 303 electoral votes away from Lincoln in 1860. 

8. Martin van Buren, 1848

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After serving one term as America's 8th president (1837-1841), Martin van Buren left the Democratic Party and ran for president as leader of the Free Soil Party. No, they weren't about giving away dirt. The FSP fought to keep slavery from spreading to new American territories in the west. Van Buren won 10.13 percent of popular vote and no electoral votes. Zachary Taylor -- the last Whig president -- won the election.

9. James B. Weaver, 1892

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In 1892, Agrarian radical James B. Weaver ran for president as the leader of the Populist Party. The Iowa congressman won 8.51 percent of the popular vote and 22 of 444 electoral votes. But Democrat Grover Cleveland won the election. Hopefully someone somewhere has preserved his legacy by forming a punk blue grass band called the Agrarian Radicals.  

10. Ross Perot, 1996

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Perot tried to build off the success of his '92 campaign with another run at the White House. But his second bid didn't go as well. The leader of the newly minted Reform Party only won 8.4 percent of popular vote and no electoral votes.

11. William Wirt, 1832


Former U.S. Attorney General William Wirt made history in 1832 when he ran for the Anti-Masonic Party, which has been called the first third party in American presidential history. As you can tell by the name, the Anti-Masons opposed freemasonry and anyone involved in it. But Americans weren't onboard. Wirt only won 7.78 percent of popular vote and 7 of 286 electoral votes.

Banner image: wikipedia.org


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