Could A Third-Party Candidate Work In The Cabinet?

by Morgan Brinlee

The rise of two strongly-disliked presidential candidates as the presumptive nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties has elicited a lot of chatter about third-party candidates this election season. Historically, however, third-party candidates have found it nearly impossible to reach the White House through the presidency. George Washington was the first and last third-party candidate to ever win a presidential election. Yet there are certainly other ways to cast a political shadow in Washington and influence what goes on in the White House. Which begs the question, could a third-party candidate land a Cabinet position after a failed presidential bid?

Jill Stein, the Green Party's presumptive nominee, told the Political People Podcast (PPP) she was open to being a member of Bernie Sanders' Cabinet should he win the general election. "Would I accept a place in a Sanders administration? Well, you know, there are Greens who work in the EU in other administrations – that happens all the time," PPP reported Stein said during an interview in early February. "And that [being part of a Bernie Sanders cabinet] is certainly something that could be discussed."

The Cabinet is traditionally composed of the heads of the 15 executive departments within the federal government, including Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs; the vice president is also a member of the Cabinet. Moreover, the vice president is the only member of the Cabinet not nominated to their position by the president and confirmed in a majority Senate vote.

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Generally, Cabinet positions are doled out by presidents to members of their own political party. However, while appointments across political lines are rare, they're certainly not verboten. In fact, they're often a means for presidents to encourage bipartisanship. For example, during his two terms in the White House, President Barack Obama has nominated at least five Republicans to his Cabinet, with four of them serving. Before him, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter each had one member of the opposing party serving on their Cabinet at some time during their presidency, according to PolitiFact. John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Franklin D. Roosevelt each appointed three Cabinet positions across political lines.

Interestingly enough, since the Republican and Democratic parties have come to dominate America's two-party political system, no third-party members have been appointed to a White House Cabinet. But again, there's nothing legally preventing a president from appointing a Cabinet member or two from a third party. And with all the talk third parties (like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party) have received this election, this might be the year we see a Cabinet position allocated to a third-party member. The question isn't so much could a third-party candidate land a Cabinet position, but would they.