Barack Hussein Obama is hatching a secret plot to pull off the ultimate power grab: securing himself a third term in the White House.
At least that’s the narrative being spun by right-wing conspiracy theorists, who seem to believe Obama is modeling his presidency after fictional Nixon in Watchmen.
Among the main proponents of this theory—which comes in several different flavors—is Stansberry & Associates Investment Research, a publishing firm that hawks financial advice—and has a history of promoting dubious claims. Even before the president won reelection, the company began blasting out emails to subscribers of various conservative newsletters, warning of the coming third term of Obama. The emails went out as paid advertisements through the right-leaning Townhall.com, Newsmax, Human Events, and Gingrich Marketplace (a spokesman for Newt Gingrich and the vice president of Human Events both claimed this email blast was a mistake).
The emails alerted readers to a vague—and somewhat counterintuitive—theory: Some unspecified but major event will lead to an epoch of American economic prosperity. Because it will happen under Obama’s watch, he’ll claim full credit and receive an unprecedented boost in approval ratings, giving him a mandate to demand and subsequently obtain a third term. If you’re confused, below are screenshots of two of the emails:
These messages are accompanied by a slideshow titled “The Third Term — INSIDE: The Secret Plan to Retain Power Through 2020” and narrated by Stansberry & Associates founder Frank Porter Stansberry. It discusses how Obama will become American history’s greatest tyrant, responsible for implementing “the most terrifying socialist policies” the country has ever seen. “The Third Term” also highlights the company’s supposed track record of correctly predicting the future, and invites readers to check out their trading and investing services and other pricey products.
Other conspiracymongers who have recently jumped on the Obama-third-term-prophecy bandwagon are radio host Alex Jones—who has featured Stansberry on his show—and birtherism promoter and WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah. Over at the conservative forum Free Republic, commenters have ruminated on a related theory. In this scenario, Michelle Obama runs for president in 2016 and wins, thus allowing Barack to run the government as a shadow president. Among the first to prognosticate an Obama power grab was Rush Limbaugh, who was way ahead of the curve: He predicted a third Obama term in the summer of 2009, when the 44th president had just barely moved into the White House:
The third-term theory isn’t limited to the far right: Technorati writer Sreedhar Pillai has also mused about a possible third term, and Faheem Younus at the Washington Post‘s faith blog posted on why war with Iran could grant Obama a Roosevelt-like run.
It’s unlikely that this theory will gain much traction nationally (though the third-termers have achieved enough publicity to earn their theory derisive words from Chris Matthews on MSNBC). From a purely legal perspective, there are solid obstacles to the president achieving this alleged goal, mainly the 22nd Amendment. It plainly states:
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.
President Obama—who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade—likely knows this already.
“There is no evidence to suggest Obama or his supporters are planning on staging a coup. It’s a right-wing fantasy cooked up to try to frighten Americans.”
But, just to double check, we asked a few experts about the Obama-third-term theory. “There is nothing in his tenure as president, nothing that we know of him, that indicates that Barack Obama is going to seek a third term,” David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, told Mother Jones. “Short of a military coup, the 22nd Amendment stands as an insurmountable obstacle to a third-term president today, and there is no evidence to suggest Obama or his supporters are planning on staging a coup. It’s a right-wing fantasy cooked up to try to frighten Americans.”
As a thought experiment, if Obama and his political allies did want to take a stab at repealing the amendment (in a time of economic boom, or whenever), they’d be in for a political fight that would make passing the Affordable Care Act look like a stroll in the park. “As a practical matter, no constitutional amendment can occur without being supported by both major parties,” said Akhil Reed Amar, a professor of law and political science at Yale University. “Constitutional amendments require two-thirds of the House and Senate, and three-quarters of the states to ratify. No party controls that much. That’s all you need to understand. So, no, Barack Obama will not be serving a third term.”
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and Bush-era FEC commissioner (and one of the nation’s foremost voter fraud crusaders), agrees: “I’m going to attempt to not laugh at this,” Von Spakovsky told Mother Jones. “I don’t like Obama’s policies, but even I don’t believe he would try to get a third term in direct contravention of the 22nd Amendment. Particularly because he couldn’t. There is a constitutional prohibition as well as a practical one: When you submit an application in every state and in Washington, DC, to the state election official to qualify to get on the ballot, they simply won’t accept an application from someone who violates the 22nd Amendment.”
Technically, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for an American politician to launch an effort to lengthen a term, or seek an extra four years. Early in President Reagan’s second term, congressional allies attempted to find support for amending the Constitution to give him a chance to potentially serve a third term. And when Nixon was in office, there was a proposal to expand presidential terms to six years. Both initiatives were quickly abandoned.
As Von Spakovsky said, “This is not a realistic fear that anyone should have.”