How the Third Party Candidates Can Become Viable

By Edward Perrin:

For many, a vote in the general election for Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein are a protest against the perceived corruption of the status quo in Washington. And while I do not want to disparage the votes of those who earnestly support these candidates — or the more than 20 other non-major party candidates — I cannot help but feel that those votes are not really going toward serious candidates.

In all honesty, none of the candidates aside from Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton has a real chance.  Johnson polls around eight or nine percent in general election polls, and Stein hovers between one and two percent.  While real votes will be cast for these two that will be counted, those votes will not help either candidate get elected.

The first problem with the viability of their campaigns may very well be their party platforms.  Most Americans are probably somewhere in the middle, politically, and these two platforms run to the extreme left and right.  Then again, Bernie Sanders ran a campaign that promoted some pretty extreme left-wing ideas, and he came very close to winning the Democratic nomination.  Had he chosen to run as an independent after the Democratic Primary, he would certainly have been a viable contender in the general election.

Indeed, the viability of the Libertarian ticket was seriously undermined this week after The Boston Globe reported that former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, the Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee, is going to focus the remainder of election season on efforts to stop the Trump campaign from winning.  Does that seem like the he is a member of a viable ticket?  No, and even without Weld’s change of focus or Johnson’s recent foreign policy knowledge gaffes, their candidacy was not given much of a chance.

But could it have had one?  I think so, and so could Jill Stein’s.  If there is any lesson from the Sanders campaign, it is that many people are tired of the status quo in Washington.  His major advantage over the alternative campaigns is not that he was aligning himself with the Democratic party; it is that he was actively campaigning and fundraising during the primary.  He did not need a super PAC, for, as we all know, his average donation was only 27 dollars.

Senator Sanders tried to play the game, and he came pretty close to winning for the Democrats.  In doing so, he set a template that others can follow, and no one has to become a Republican or Democrat to do it.

One of the most important things he did was start running — and fundraising — around the same time that all the other major party candidates did.  This allowed him to compete for publicity with the other major candidates and show how he’s different.  Johnson and Stein came very late in the game, after Trump and Clinton already had too much momentum.

While the selection process for the Green and Libertarian parties may be different — the Libertarians did not really have primaries or caucuses — that does not mean that candidates from those parties cannot present themselves along the way as viable alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans.  They can hold rallies and raise funds.  They can use social media to get their messages out, and they can even rely on traditional media with Op-Eds and interviews.  If they get enough attendance at rallies, they will get attention from the media.

That leaves us with the most important thing that Senator Sanders did (and admittedly, Donald Trump did the same). He inspired people who felt disconnected and even disenfranchised. He spoke to the main problem that so many people have with our political process.  Money and the access that it provides for special interests.

Now, it may be too late for Stein and Johnson to inspire the electorate in this campaign season, but it will very soon be time for their parties to consider their approach to the 2020 election.  Donald Trump is a political outsider, and he managed to stir the emotions of millions of voters.  Whether or not we agree with him or even elect him, he and Sanders have shown that you can inspire people with views that are outside the mainstream party norms.  The question will remain for the non-major party candidates in 2020.  Can you inspire us?

Edward Perrin is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army veteran.  Following his military career, Perrin worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  He has a B.A in English from the University of Maine.

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