Is a Third Party Politically Possible?

Trying to get elected as a third party candidate in America is extremely difficult if not impossible since the electing process is not by majority vote. Ballot access is also an obstacle since third parties have to meet additional criteria not required of Republicans and Democrats.

Third-party advocates are determined to maintain that they are making a difference. At best, they are not voting. Their third-party candidates don’t even register in the polls. Not a single state will be won. Not a single electoral vote will be won. John Anderson had more visibility in 1980 than any third-party candidate has today. After being beaten by Ronald Reagan in the primaries, Anderson launched his “Unity Party” campaign. See if the following sounds familiar:

Anderson felt that neither party, nor its candidates, represented American ideals: the Republicans were too socially conservative and intolerant, he said, and the Democrats’ tax-and-spend, social welfare agenda seemed to ignore economic realities. The ongoing oil crisis, which had manifested itself in terms of long gas lines and rampant inflation, was a serious problem, and Carter’s only response was to blame the public’s “crisis of confidence.” And Anderson feared that Reagan’s hawkish defense attitudes and social conservatism were bad for America.

While Anderson received nearly six million votes, he did not win a single electoral vote.

In 1992, Ross Perot ran on the Reform Party platform. He received nearly 20 percent of the popular vote (about 19 million votes), but like Anderson, did not garner a single electoral vote.

Some will point to Theodore Roosevelt’s third-party candidacy in 1912. He received four million votes in the popular election and 88 electoral votes. What is not often mentioned is that Roosevelt had been president from 1901 to 1909. His success as a third-party candidate was made possible by his previous two terms as president and his many other popular accomplishments. But even with all his notoriety, he could not win a third term as a third-party candidate.

None of today’s third-party candidates has any of the notoriety of Roosevelt, Anderson, or Perot, and yet we are told that they are viable candidates. At least Roosevelt and Anderson had electoral experience going for them. Anderson served as a U.S. Representative from the 16th Congressional District of Illinois.

Ron Paul, who has legislative experience and success going back to 1976, tried the third-party route but in 2008 ran as a Republican. He understands how the system works and decided to work within the system even though he probably disagrees with the majority of what his fellow Republicans do. I find it interesting that those who push for third parties hold up Ron Paul as their standard bearer, and yet he is running as a Republican, although he has not dismissed the idea of running as a third-party candidate. I suspect he is hedging his bet because he’s still in the running as a candidate.

The Constitution Party was founded in 1992. The most votes received at the national level was 184,820 in 1996. In 2004, the top of the ticket received 143,630 votes. The only candidate elected to a state-level office is Rick Jore of Montana in 2006. There has been some local election success. Jore had served three terms as a Republican before he ran two unsuccessful campaigns as a Constitution party member before winning in 2006, defeating his Democratic opponent 2,210 to 1,725 votes. Here’s the kicker. At the time of Jore’s election victory, the Constitution Party of Montana had disaffiliated from the national Constitution Party a short time before the election.

Not a single Constitution Party member has won a House or Senate seat at the national level. Jore’s political history is a case study in why it is so difficult to run as a third-party candidate.

So what’s to be done? History teaches and the current political environment shows that third-party candidacies, especially at the national level, are like climbing Mt. Everest in a bathing suit. The best tactic is to take over the existing political parties where they are vulnerable. If you can’t take over an existing party, then what makes you think you’ll have enough voters to create a viable third party?

The House and Senate are where the action is. The 2010 election proved how much power one house of Congress can have stopping legislation. The President can’t do anything if he can’t get a majority.

The best place to make an impact is in the House of Representatives. Find the most vulnerable seats in both parties, recruit good candidates, teach them how to run effective campaigns, raise money to back them, and get to work for the next two years to get them elected. Keep doing this until we are able to get our vote-blocking majority. This is a simple strategy. It’s certainly better than putting up a sacrificial lamb each year to run for president who will never be president given third-party realities.

If third-party advocates are not willing to do this much, then they are not serious about their values. There is a greater chance of success taking this approach when compared to what the Constitution Party has accomplished electorally since 1992. With the internet, conservative talk radio, and other methods of getting the word out, I believe there is high potential for success. I would extend this to county and state-wide offices. Party affiliation is unimportant. Put up a candidate for whichever seat is most vulnerable.

Here is the poison pill. Any candidate wanting to participate in this constitutional takeover must not accept anything except a salary. This means no participation in the congressional honey pot of perks and pensions. This will separate the true believers from the opportunists. These guys get paid enough that they can do what the rest of us do: save and invest for their own retirement.

Of course, along with these election tactics, there will have to be a mass education initiative. An informed electorate is what we’ll need to pull it off (Ex. 18:20). How long will all this take? About as long as it took to get us in this mess. Two percent per annum is about right.

This proposal will do more than all the huffing and puffing about third-party candidates.