Is a Third Party Candidate Inevitable in 2012?

Thomas Friedman's prediction is treated with skepticism by pundits

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On Sunday, Thomas Friedman published an article entitled Third Party Rising, in which he boldly predicts that, barring the "transformation" of the Republican and Democratic parties, there will be a serious third party contender to vie for the Presidency in 2012. To clarify, he isn't speaking about a new party to supplant the country's reigning "duopoly," only a single candidate who could challenge Obama on enacting  reforms that the president has thus far failed to accomplish, despite a sweeping political mandate. Freidman's speculation touched off a variety of opinions from political pundits, many of whom strongly disagree with The New York Times columnist.

  • There Is Going to be a Serious Third Party Candidate In 2012 predicts The New York Time's Thomas Friedman. As much as the president has been able to accomplish, the best that our two parties can do is "sub-optimal" and these times demand more. He concludes: "We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies."

  • A 'Wildly Unpersuasive' Argument finds The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen, who didn't care for that type of column "the first hundred times it's been published over the years." In reality, Friedman effectively endorsed the entirety Obama's agenda, "but instead of calling for reforming the legislative process, or calling on Republicans to start playing a constructive role in policymaking, or calling on voters to elect more candidates who agree with the agenda the columnist espouses, Friedman says what we really need is an amorphous third party that will think the way he does."

  • Don't We Go Through This Every Election Cycle? muses Steven Taylor at Outside the Beltway, who lists four reasons why Friedman's notion is "strained": 1) The Electoral College: the rules aren't conducive to third parties and even if a contender could pick up some states, the "likely outcome would be throwing the election to the House of Representatives to decide, which would be dominated by one of the mainline parties." 2) Primaries:"the behavior of Tea Party-backed candidates...all demonstrate that there is a pressure valve in American political institutions, i.e., the primaries, that allows for insurgent movements/factions of the two mainline parties to be nominated ... and to have a far better chance to win office than if they went the third party route." 3) the Senate: a third party candidate would have even more trouble there than Obama: the candidate "wouldn’t even have a specific bloc of vote in the chamber with which to work." 4) The last thing: "the combo of primary system and single member district plurality elections for Congress helps reinforce the two party system."

  • We Don't Need a Third Party, We Need New Conservative Opposition writes Ron Chusid at Liberal Values, who hopes for a "rational center" Republican party. "The problem isn’t necessarily the two party system but the two parties we now have in a system where Senators representing a minority of the country from a minority party can so easily block legislation.... We should have a conservative opposition which forces a Democratic majority to prove the merits of their spending proposals. Unfortunately the Republicans fail to provide a serious opposition when they have a knee jerk opposition to virtually everything and, by their own admission, would prefer to see Obama fail."

  • There's Precedent to Illustrate the Folly of This Thinking Salon's Steve Kornacki illustrates his point using an example from the 1980 election, where the conditions were "optimal" for such a movement:

The Democrats...had proven they couldn’t govern, but the Republicans had gone off the ideological deep end. Enter John Anderson, a liberal Republican congressman from Illinois who gave up his no-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination in March and announced that he’d run as an independent in November. His move was celebrated by 'radical centrist' Friedman-ish pundits, and -- at least initially -- by plenty of voters, too. At one point in the spring of ’80, Anderson scored 24 percent in a trial heat with Carter and Reagan. It was only the beginning, he promised. But it was actually the beginning of the end. Ballot access and fundraising presented significant barriers to Anderson; glowing treatment by editorial boards and columnists can only get you so far. Voters quickly concluded that the real game was between Reagan and Carter and chose sides accordingly.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.