Over the last twenty years we've seen a lot of attention paid to third
candidates. In the Reagan years it was John Andersen, followed shortly by Perot, and
subsequently Nader and Buchanan. (I manage to take pride that Americans reject the
politics of Pat by more than 99%.) In each election the third party man threatens to be
a spoiler, then ultimately has no effect.
Four to seven percent of voters routinely get caught up in the romanticism
of "the little guy,"
who fights for the issues that the mainstream routinely ignore. They have visions that a
grass roots movement will take hold and turn the upstart into a national hero, who will
save the nation from a slide to ruin.
Why not? It's the American dream!
Americans have a love affair with the "Mr. Smith" who goes to Washington.
will likely continue. After all, it's happened before. Teddy Roosevelt did it early in
the 20th century with the Bull Moose Party.
But Teddy had an advantage. Teddy had served as president as a
The nation was well aware of his beliefs and he had already established working relations
with the members of congress. Any chance that the event could repeat in history would
largely require similar, if not identical, conditions. Otherwise, the most likely result of a
third party candidacy, if it has any effect at all, is that it will spoil the candidacy of the
mainstream pol closest to the challenger's point of view. The two most similar candidates
will cancel each other out like the two most popular nominees for an Academy Award.
The majority positions (even while compromised) will fall by the wayside to the minority.
Even if a third party candidate could succeed, having never established
with congress or the two parties that control it, it's likely that the administration created
by that candidate would be a disaster. The Democratic and Republican members of
congress, wanting control of the Executive Branch for themselves, would be short on
cooperation for the new president. Constant battles would erupt between the Executive
and Legislative branches of government, probably involving the Judicial branch at times,
that would reduce the new administration to ashes in less than four years.
But a wise third party is not without hope. There is a strategy
that could prove successful,
although sans the Jimmy Stewart glamour. That strategy is to avoid the Executive Office
(for now) and to take careful aim at the House and the Senate. The majority in the House
or the Senate of the Republicans over the Democrats, or visa-versa, is typically small.
Only a few votes are needed to sway the outcome of legislation one way or the other.
And third party candidacies usually play better on the local level than on the national.
The key is to target those states or districts where the voters show the largest distaste
for Republican AND Democratic solutions.
For example, if the majority in the House is determined by merely six
votes, the third
party need only defeat four representatives of the majority to control all legislation in
the House that is divided by party lines. Party line votes are common in our current
congressional gridlock, so the ability to be "king maker" on controversial legislation
represents extraordinary power. The third party is even in position to choose the
Speaker of the House, the third most powerful office in American government