Don't Fall for the Third Party B.S.
There is going to be a major push for a 3rd party candidate in 2024, here's why its bad for democracy
There were two primary reactions to Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to kinda, sorta leave the Democratic Party. The first was pure rage — the culmination of two years of her arrogantly blocking the policies she used to support in a seemingly desperate desire for attention. The second reaction was one of pure speculation — was Sinema’s decision to register as an Independent the first step towards a third-party candidacy in 2024?
The Sinema speculation built on a growing chatter about a third-party candidate running for President in 2024. Such talk always happens, but such an effort has more momentum than in previous elections. Earlier this year, David Brooks, a frequent advocate for a third party, reported:
The group No Labels has been working quietly over the past 10 months to give Americans a third viable option. The group calls its work an insurance policy. If one of the parties nominates a candidate acceptable to the center of the electorate, then the presidential operation will shut down. But if both parties go to the extremes, then there will be a unity ticket appealing to both Democrats and Republicans to combat this period of polarized dysfunction.
The No Labels operation is a $70 million effort, of which $46 million has already been raised or pledged. It has four main prongs. The first is to gain ballot access for a prospective third candidate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The organization is working with lawyers, political strategists and petition firms to amass signatures and establish a No Labels slot on the 2024 ballots. The group already has over 100,000 signatures in Ohio, for example, and 47,000 signatures in Arizona.
No Labels is a gross organization plagued with misconduct. But they are very good at separating politically naive Wall Street folks from their money. Whether it’s Sinema, Manchin or someone else, you will hear a lot about a third-party bid for the presidency. Don’t fall for this Sorkin-esque fantasy. It’s bad faith BS and an existential threat to Democrats (and democracy).
The Fatuous Argument for a Third-Party Candidacy
Every four years, there is a conversation about the possibility of a viable third-party candidacy. Candidates are floated, cable air time is filled, and columns are written by all of the usual suspects.
Back in 2016, Axios founder Jim Vandehei (a man who has literally made millions writing about politics) wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal proposing an Innovation Party led by people like Mark Zuckerberg.
A few years later, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz hired a bipartisan coterie of political consultants to aggressively (and expensively) explore a Presidential candidacy. After failing to gain traction and becoming the object of national ridicule, Schultz abandoned politics to enter into full time union-busting.
None of this is new, but the perennial third-party advocates claim this year is different.
61% of the public think Trump should not seek the presidency, compared with 30% who believe he should. And 70% say Biden should not run for a second term with just 19% supporting a run.
Second, according to Gallup data, more Americans identify with a third party or no party than as Republicans or Democrats. And as NBC’s First Read pointed out:
In addition, in 19 of the 31 states that track voter registration by party, one of the two major parties is in THIRD place in party registration – behind either independent or unaffiliated or minor party.
These arguments sound compelling, but guess what? They aren’t. We don’t know who the nominees will be and even if they are Biden (almost certain) and Trump (likely), partisans will coalesce around their candidates. Fewer people declaring as Republicans and Democrats has not led to a measurable increase in people voting for third-party candidates. But even if all of these data points were indicative of a real desire for a third-party candidacy, it would still be a fool’s errand.
A Third-Party Candidate is Doomed
The problem with fantasizing about a third-party or Independent bid for President is that the system is rigged in two ways to ensure that a third-party or Independent candidate cannot win.
First, Electoral votes are awarded by a state on a winner-take-all basis. Having a broad base of support is not enough. You need a plurality in that state to make any progress. Take the example of Ross Perot. The Texas businessman ran a strong campaign in 1992. He was a major factor, led in the polls at one point, and was invited to participate in the debates. Perot received 19 percent of the popular vote — a historically impressive performance. Yet, he received just as many Electoral votes as Kanye West in 2020 — zero.
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