Although the former congressman doesn't have much chance, he -- not Mike Bloomberg -- is the prototype of a successful contender.
When the specter of a third-party candidate is raised, inevitably the most frequent names bandied about all fall in the same mold -- good-government types with inevitably liberal views on social issues. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the most frequent name that gets bandied about. The latest flavor-of-the-week is former U.S. Comptroller David Walker, who has been advocating for entitlement reform.
But in reality, third-parties only thrive when there's a political vacuum to be filled. Despite being a nominal independent, Bloomberg's views aren't much different than your average Democrat. Walker's stand on entitlement reform is embraced by many of the leading Republican pols, led by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.
But it's that mix of social conservatism with economic populism that doesn't get much a hearing as it should, based on Americans' political views. As my colleague Ron Brownstein noted in his column last week "each side's electoral coalition is now bound together far more by shared cultural values than by common economic interests."
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That means Republicans, increasingly dependent on the support of blue-collar voters, are campaigning on cuts to popular entitlement programs that may rankle some of the GOP rank-and-file. And it means that Democrats can't effectively win over these voters with populist appeals because the party's views on litmus test cultural issues, like immigration and abortion, are well out of step with their personal beliefs.
That's why former Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode's third-party presidential candidacy should be receiving more attention. The Democrat-turned-Republican congressman is campaigning on a platform of reducing immigration (legal and illegal), protecting Social Security and Medicare and balancing the budget immediately.
Goode, by virtue of his relative anonymity and likely lack of funding, probably won't get much traction -- even if he emerges with the Constitution Party nomination. But he's the prototype of a third-party candidate that would have the potential to get support from a swath of voters who would see both President Obama and Mitt Romney as elites disconnected from the concerns of working-class Americans. Americans Elect isn't jumping to his side, but he's the type of candidate whose positions could resonate with a significant minority of voters.
The media tend to think that the impetus for third-party candidates comes from Americans who are just plain sick of politics-as-usual and want a truth-teller to come in and shake things up. Hence, the regular Bloomberg boomlet in certain circles. In reality, the greatest demand for a third-party candidate would come from the voters whose views are most out of line with the political establishment and most newspaper editorial boards.
Image: Virgil Goode