Reporter's Notebook

The Hunger for a Third Party in 2016
Show Description +

Readers debate the need for, and the merits of, third-party candidates against the Republican-Democratic duopoly.

Show None Newer Notes

Red ... Blue ... Green?

For a big dose of third-party discourse, here’s a 90-minute video of their presidential debate from 2012, moderated by Larry King and featuring Jill Stein of the Green Party, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party—a few names you probably haven’t heard of:

A ton of reader email has come in regarding our discussion of third parties. Here are some of the best ones making the case for the Green Party, starting with reader Robert:

Like your reader Gary, I would also like to see increased coverage of the Green Party’s political platform from The Atlantic, and from media outlets in general. To preface, I am not an official member of the Green Party, and I caucused in support of Bernie Sanders during the WA state caucuses. I am currently deciding between voting for Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein in the November elections. (I don’t think Sanders is quite toast yet, but he is in the toaster and someone’s about to plunge the lever.)

I will put my main argument first: Mrs. Clinton is not offering a concrete or dramatic enough plan to combat climate change. We know that climate change is an existential threat with the potential to radically destabilize human society on a large scale; we know that our food production system is at great risk; we know fossil fuel energy companies have many federal politicians in their pockets; we know that the fight against our own polluting activities will require organization and mobilization on a scale never before seen the history of mammalian life on Earth. (In fact, this exact argument has been made in The Atlantic: “Why Solving Climate Change Will Be Like Mobilizing for War”).

The Green Party is the only party that makes environmental issues the overwhelming top priority that it needs to be for the next 100+ years. I know that national politicians in America right now are loath to touch any environmental issue with legislation due to the risk of obstructionism, but this is the single most important issue that humanity has ever faced, and likely will ever face.

In our ongoing reader debate over third parties in 2016, Evan Dalley turns to the Libertarians:

I’m writing to concur with the argument made by your reader, Gary, that The Atlantic should expand its political coverage to the campaign of Jill Stein, but I’d like to add, in the nature of a free press in a democratic society, that the campaign of the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson is worthy of coverage as well.

Many Republicans are feeling like they’ve been left without a political home by Trump becoming the presumptive nominee, and many Sanders supporters are likely going to feel abandoned by the Democratic Party in the almost-inevitable event that Clinton clinches the nomination. It’s the job of a free press to show all of these people that they can vote for someone else, that it’s still worth voting at all.

Dale makes a simple case for the Libertarians:

I don’t agree with the platforms of the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, but I plan to vote Libertarian for the first time in my life. Why?

  • The entire political process is corrupted by money.
  • Both major parties have failed to represent their constituencies for decades.
  • I hold both major candidates in contempt for different reasons.
  • I regard my vote as a “none of the above” vote. Oh, how I wish that was a ballot choice. Refusing to vote implies indifference.

If you have a more comprehensive case for voting Libertarian, let us know. A good starting point is Nora’s look this week at the question, “Is this the Libertarian Party’s moment?” Her piece was partly spurred by long-time GOP operative Mary Matalin registering as a Libertarian last week, right after Trump became the presumptive nominee:

Money quote from Nora’s piece:

[W]hen it comes to polls, [Gary] Johnson said, the party is in a catch-22. He explains the problem this way: Polling companies do not test libertarian candidates because mainstream media does not cover them much, and the mainstream media will not cover them much because they say, “‘You’re not polling.’” Of course, Johnson is not polling because “I’m not in the poll!” He did see some encouraging numbers in one late-March Monmouth University survey, in which he was the only Libertarian tested in a hypothetical contest with Hillary Clinton and Trump. Johnson got 11 percent of the vote. In the 2012 election, he received roughly 1 percent of the vote nationwide, a record for the party.

A reader shakes his head:

“Is This the Libertarian Party’s Moment?” No. Nor will such a moment ever come. A libertarian government in nice in theory, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of people want their government to do things. Many, many things.

But another reader argues that small-l libertarianism has actually been a big success over the past several decades:

The Libertarian readers in the earlier installment of our discussion would be heartened by the new piece from Nora showing a surge of support for Gary Johnson:

If Gary Johnson wants to make it onto a primetime presidential-debate stage as the Libertarian Party’s nominee, he needs to qualify by polling above 15 percent. … Johnson just got good news: A poll released Tuesday morning shows the candidate with 10 percent of the national vote.

As Nora notes, that 10 percent is roughly twice as high as Johnson’s figures from 2012. But that boost isn’t enough to convince this reader, Mark, that Johnson has a real shot:

I would love to support alternative parties in the U.S. However, there are serious problems with current options. To name a few:

Most have very small or no local party infrastructure. The machinery that gets out the vote, arranges campaign events, gets petitions signed, etc., are crucial to national elections. The two most viable small parties, Greens and Libertarians, do have some local support and have had limited success getting local and even state candidates elected. But those successes are few and far between, and have had little effect on party growth.

Because they are so small, they have been refuges for the discontented and malcontents. Having followed Facebook pages and newsletters for Greens, I have been discouraged by the level of internal discourse, with little consensus even on the real role of the party: social pressure group or political party. Without a clear direction, the party flounders on many issues.

Clare Foran reports from Philly on Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s effort to court Sanders supporters:

So, can Stein really lead a political revolution? Her diagnosis of the problems plaguing the country isn’t so different from Sanders’s assessment. Like the senator, she sees a country overrun by big money and corporate power. She wants to make health care a right, break up big banks, and ensure that high-quality education is accessible for Americans. Stein has also embraced positions that put her to the left of the senator. At the Bernie-or-Bust rally, she called for reparations as part of a conversation on fighting racism rooted in the “criminal institution of slavery.”

A reader writes:

One of the Jill Stein supporters in Foran’s article says, “I won’t vote for Hillary....There’s no unity.” Except there is. Clinton won the popular vote and the delegate vote. She’s won over most Bernie voters. [According to Pew polling, 90 percent of Sanders supporters say they’ll vote for Clinton.]  She’s winning some Republicans who are terrified of Trump. [According to a new WaPo/ABC poll, Clinton is getting 13 percent of Republicans.] She’s got a powerful endorsement from our beloved president. There is a growing sense of the dramatic difference between her and Trump, and between the Democratic and Republican visions for the country, and Clinton is taking the baton from Obama to carry ours forward.

Stein and the dead-enders who support her are living in a dreamworld. They are the mirror image of the Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann tea-partiers—disconnected from reality and the rest of the the country—just coming from the other end of the spectrum. If Stein runs and helps Trump win, she will be the pariah of my lifetime.

A reader debate in May over the Green Party is here if you’re interested. Here’s another reader on Clare’s piece—which is titled, “Can Jill Stein Lead a Revolution?”:

She CAN lead a revolution. But, like most revolutions, it will fail if she insists on working outside the current system. The purists on the left are helping Trump.

We’ve seen this before.