There has been a lot of talk lately about third party candidates and whether or not they should be allowed to appear in the presidential debates. The debate organizers came up with a criteria for what a “major” party candidate would be. The criteria they came up with are pretty simple, the party has to be on enough state ballots that the candidate could theoretically reach the 270 electoral vote threshold and they have to be polling at 15% in several national polls. No third party candidate is going to meet these criteria this year.
Of course the supporters of these candidates are crying foul and complaining that that the Ds and Rs have rigged the system against their ideologically pure candidates and parties. The system is certainly rigged, but not in any direct conspiratorial way.
Imagine if you wanted to, say, compete against Wal-Mart and Target. Is the system going to look rigged to you? Of course it is! And sometimes it really is. Lots of municipalities will be giving tax breaks, infrastructure improvements and all kinds of goodies to get a new Wal-Mart store. You ain’t gonna get bupkis. Is is a conspiracy? It probably is sometimes. But overall people just want a known entity, one they already consider a winner. So, yes you are going to have a heck of a time gaining traction on those two and complaining that the “system is rigged” is not going to help at all.
Does this mean that Wal-Mart and Target can’t be beat and will last forever? Let’s ask Jeff Bezos what he might think about that. Or let’s ask Sears and Penneys what happened to their market share. Market leaders can be taken down, but complaining about the system is not going to do it.
While there may be historical reasons that we have two parties rather than three or four, the current dominance of the Democratic and Republican parties is pretty simple. It is the same as Wal-Mart and Target, they are pretty darn good at what they do.
The two major parties are represented in pretty much every county in the country. They have tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people who are willing to knock on doors, make phone calls and attend meetings in every nook and cranny of the country. They are able to run candidates in pretty much every congressional district and every Senate race. In most states they can run a slate of candidates from dog catcher to governor. And finally, they have people who are willing to put their money where their mouth is and fund these operations.
So, this year when maybe 10% of voters are willing to tell pollsters, “I hate those guys, I am voting for Jill or Gary.” This does not make them a political party. It may be true that: “Americans have never been closer to rebellion against the political establishment. Millions are fed up with the sold-out Democratic and Republican parties, and looking for a new politics with integrity, values, and vision. This isn’t just a feeling in the air; national polls show that a large majority of Americans agree that the establishment parties are failing us, and that a new major party is needed,” as the Green Party of Wisconsin website says. But wanting and needing a new party is not the same as actually having one.
The Green Party of Wisconsin “supported” four local candidates according to their website. They have no congressional candidates on this year’s ballot. Their governing committee consists of 2 people per congressional district, which means they need 16 people to fill out — they only have eight. No candidates and not enough people to even fill out a committee. This is not a “political party.”
The Libertarians are actually better, but not much. They also would like 16 people on their own governing committee and can only find eight. They do have seven candidates running for office, one for Senate, three for congress and three for the state legislature. Two of those candidates are college students. Better than the Greens, but again, this is not really a political party. Just because you have some mops and brooms at your country store, nobody is going to confuse you with Wal-Mart.
And even if you are right that people want “authentic goods” from “local merchants” that does not mean that you are going to beat Wal-Mart at its game. Jeff Bezos is going about beating Wal-Mart. Micro-breweries are going after the big guys and winning. Taking down the established big guys can be done, and there are many methods for doing it.
But right now, the third parties are not doing it, it is all just wishful thinking and slogans.
If I ran the presidential debates, I would change the criteria. Yes, the part about being on the ballot in enough states to get 270, but also having candidates in 15% of the congressional and Senate races. Neither the Greens nor Libertarians meet this criteria.
Political parties run candidates for office. It’s what they do. If you want to talk about political philosophy and policy recommendations, then you are a think tank.
Neither the Greens nor the Libertarians run candidates for office in anything approaching significant numbers. Until they do, they should not be in the presidential debates.
If they want to be a political party they should do what political parties do, run candidates and get people to vote for them. You can say all you want that Coke and Pepsi are unhealthy and disgusting and that the revolution has begun, but until my supermarket shelves are filled with something else other than Coke and Pepsi, and those new products are flying off the shelves, the revolution is not actually here.
Bernie Sanders showed that it is possible to build a political organization made up of small donors, generate enthusiasm and get lots of votes. That could be the start of a real revolution. The Libertarians and Greens have done absolutely nothing like that. The could follow the Sanders model or they could make a new one, but so far, they haven’t really done anything other than run boutique candidates for president. That is not a revolution and they are not actual political parties.
And until they have an actual political party — one that runs candidates in elections up and down the ticket and gets votes for those candidates, it is perfectly reasonable to exclude them from the presidential debates.