Earlier this week, Ed penned a short and perhaps a bit unkind obituary for Americans Elect, the failed attempt to draft a third party ticket to run against Obama and Romney. Pundits across the spectrum were lining up to toss either roses or dirt on the grave before the body had even reached room temperature. But one portion of Ed’s analysis has been sticking in my craw for a while now:
The people behind this effort somehow believed that they represented voters better than voters represent themselves through party registration, and like a lot of elites, thought that they could handpick voter choices better than the voters.
I’m sorry, but to me that seems like a vast oversimplification at best or missing the point at worst. Yes, Americans Elect failed, and I also thought it was doomed from the start, but for very different reasons. Ed’s explanation makes the assumption that the two party system we have now remains in control primarily because people look over their options and find one of the two clubs to be the best one to join. But that ignores the fact that near record numbers of people indicate that they’re open to a third party option and the numbers of registered independents is on the rise as the market share of both Democrats and Republicans has slipped.
No, I would argue that the failure of AE to catch fire and grab a seat at the table was not that so many Americans are in love with the current duopoly which runs the show now. It was that AE simply failed to take into account one of the primary facts of life in American politics. People don’t fall in love with or build huge grassroots movements behind a PowerPoint presentation on how to build a third party. We get fired up about a person, provided they are perceived as being sufficiently smart, successful, charismatic and chock full of the leadership qualities we’re seeking.
At OTB, Doug Mataconis notes that AE incorrectly tried to follow a Field of Dreams model: if they built it, the voters would come and they could worry about the pesky details of who their candidate would be later.
From the beginning, Americans Elect was designed to appeal not to the disaffected middle of American politics, which very well could be the source of a viable third-party movement (or, a movement that reforms to two major political parties), but to Thomas Friedman and his fellow residents of the Acela Corridor who have been pining for a candidate like Michael Bloomberg for four years now. In the end, though, as an Americans Elect “draftee” Bloomberg got less support than Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Senator Bernie Sanders, and President Obama, and only a few hundred more than Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee Gary Johnson. That seems to be a fairly good indication that the even the small amount of people participating in the Americans Elect process didn’t have much a desire for an Americans Elect-type candidate.
There may come a day where a third-party candidate will come out of the wilderness, catch fire, and remake the American political scene. If it happens, though, it won’t be a candidate imposed from above by elites, or selected through the kind of convoluted nomination process that Americans Elect put together. So, if they’re pretending that they can come back and try this again in 2016, the Americans Elect people are kidding themselves.
Lack of an exciting candidate to rally behind was certainly one large part of the failure of AE, but as I was pointing out last summer, even if this had worked and produced a viable candidate this year, it would only work once. And that’s because it’s not an actual grassroots system built upon people in town halls and public meetings around the country. It’s an internet gimmick, and those are far too easy for the clever to swarm or derail. The minute it became obvious that AE was able to put someone on the ballot in all fifty states and provide them with enough money to be a threat, the Republicans and Democrats would made sure that their people were sucking all the air out of that room during the following election cycle.
Because in the end, as Doug also noted, the D’s and the R’s are still, “the only game in town” when it comes to the money and infrastructure needed to mount this type of endeavor. It’s not that the two parties are somehow incredibly popular and persuasive. It’s just that for the vast number of people who lean more toward the middle on either side, they simply don’t see any other options viable enough to invest their time and money in.