Saturday, November 26, 2011



This morning’s (i.e., Saturday/Sunday, 11/26, 11/27’s) Wall Street Journal featured, on page A6, the first, or the latest, in an inevitable series of articles from various quarters of the media speculating about the possibility of a third party run for president in 2012. One especially startling statistic is that, when Ross Perot ran in 1992, winning nearly 20% of the vote and thus becoming the most successful third party presidential candidate in modern American political history, 39% of Americans told pollsters they were dissatisfied with the way the country was being governed. The same figure today is 81%.

This all sounds promising for a third party run, and those of us who are both fed up with the pompous nonentities who presume to govern us and intrigued with the horse race aspects of politics are heartened and intrigued by the prospect of a two decade year later Perot. But, sad to say, we can forget about a third party candidacy, or at least a successful third party candidacy, for a number of reasons.

First, of course, our electoral system, and the college that is a big part of it, makes third party runs difficult. Fundraising, ballot access, entrenched party machinery, etc., all make the likelihood of a third party winner miniscule. And the fifty contest nature of the race that the electoral college produces, while having obvious virtues, makes it nearly impossible, at least in these times of two entrenched parties, for a third party candidate to win outright and completely impossible to win a race that is thrown into the Congress.

Second, and more important, a lot of people are unhappy out there and a lot more people would like to throw the rascals out. But throwing the rascals out involves replacing them with somebody, and that is where the third party ardor falls apart. The Journal article noted that the two most talked about potential third party candidates are Michael Bloomberg, the moderate mayor of New York City who knows how to say the things needed to get elected and make the deals necessary to run the nation’s largest city, and Ron Paul, the delightfully incorrigible libertarian congressman who means what he says and says what he means. Would people, or at least a lot of people, who would vote for Ron Paul vote for Michael Bloomberg? If that doesn’t convey my point, two people whose names keep popping up in connection with Americans Elect, a group that is actively promoting an online convention to pick a third party candidate, are former Senator Chuck Hagel, one of the few GOP officeholders with the courage to oppose George Bush’s exercises in self-aggrandizement that have had such severe repercussions for our once great nation, and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who at least nominally quarterbacked Mr. Bush’s excellent adventures. Anyone who thinks seriously about foreign policy would be about as likely to be indifferent between these two as a typical Chicago baseball fan is to be indifferent between the White Sox and the Cubs.

People are fed and disappointed; they know what they don’t like. But they can’t agree on what they like. Any third party candidate will need the support of a significant majority, or more, of the unhappy electorate is s/he is to have a chance at getting elected. It’s nearly impossible to envision a candidate who could channel that anger into his or her single candidacy.


matt said...

My third party hope is coming from

The Pontificator said...

Thanks, Matt. I first read about Americans Elect in the cited Wall Street Journal article. (I will correct the post to reflect the proper name of the organization.) While I don't hold out much hope, the idea is interesting and I will investigate further.
Thanks for reading and commenting.