By Web Master, 5-25-12
Americans Elect was a novel idea, even as it appears to be a failed one. The group acknowledged last week that it could not agree on a suitable third-party candidate and would suspend its search. Apparently the notion of launching a third party is a lot more appealing in concept than reality, which is a shame.
The group had just about everything going for it – at least far more than previous efforts to create a viable alternative to Republicans and Democrats. It had money, media attention and prominent backers. But its members failed to rally around a candidate and prominent potential candidates just weren’t interested in the nomination.
Created in 2010, the nonprofit Americans Elect had ambitious plans to hold the first online presidential primary in U.S. history, the winner of which would lead a centrist party into the general election. At a time when Congress is as polarized and despised as ever, the idea was well received. What if there was an alternative to gridlock – wouldn’t that be great?
And early on, it appeared that Americans Elect had momentum. It qualified for ballots across the country, including in Montana, and was causing real concern for both traditional parties that feared the group could play spoiler in November. Some high-profile names were floated as potential candidates, such as Michael Bloomberg, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Of course, they would need to express interest in running on the ticket, which never happened.
Enthusiasm eventually floundered. Last week, Americans Elect held its primary and former Republican Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer tallied the most votes with about 6,000. That fell far short of the 10,000-vote threshold the group required to get on its ticket. So after spending more than $20 million on the nomination process and ballot access, Americans Elect called it quits.
In a statement the group said, “We are continuing the Americans Elect mission of creating more choice in our political system, giving candidates unaffiliated with the nominating process of either major party an authentic way to run for office and giving the American people a greater voice in our political process.”
That all sounds great, but a pattern has emerged in these third-party efforts. That is, they almost always fail. Despite the hype surrounding Americans Elect, complaints about partisanship bickering and the common belief that there exists some kind of silent “moderate majority,” the group couldn’t gain traction. How could this happen?
James Poulos at Forbes said the idea of a “moderate elite” is a myth, which could explain why the group struggled to recruit candidates.
“There hasn’t been a more overrated political movement than the supposed unity of interest and purpose among centrist elites fed up with the loony fringes,” Poulos wrote. “That’s not to say there aren’t loony fringes. It’s to say that at every opportunity, moderate elites have proven themselves either not so moderate or not so competent to play political ball.”
And why would these so-called elites run on a ticket they perceive to be doomed? Who’s excited about Buddy Roemer?
Aaron Blake at the Washington Post pointed out, “starting with a cause rather than a candidate, it turns out, complicates an arduous process.”
It’s easy for us to support the fantastical idea of a political party that is less divisive. It’s difficult, however, to name the person who would best represent that idea.
“These guys, like so many compassless folks in politics, seriously misread the American electorate and recent third party history,” wrote Garrett Quinn of the Boston Globe. “Third parties do not work without a guiding ideology, be it left, right, libertarian, statist, whatever.”
That which contributes the most to political discord – ardent ideology – is also necessary to move the needle in a fledgling movement like this one. You have to stand for something, which the loony fringe has figured out and is perhaps why the bland center quietly disappears.
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