Third Party Hype: Thomas Friedman Redux

Yesterday Thomas Friedman proclaimed that a viable third party presidential candidate will emerge in 2012:

Thanks to a quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its hand, a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention, is going to emerge in 2012. I know it sounds gimmicky — an Internet convention — but an impressive group of frustrated Democrats, Republicans and independents, called Americans Elect, is really serious, and they have thought out this process well. In a few days, Americans Elect will formally submit the 1.6 million signatures it has gathered to get on the presidential ballot in California as part of its unfolding national effort to get on the ballots of all 50 states for 2012.

As Cogitamus reminds us, though, Friedman has made similar proclamations several times before. Here are his previous predictions from my timeline of third party hype:

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (4/28/06):

If the Democrats shirk this energy challenge, as the Republicans have, I’m certain there is going to be a third party in the 2008 election. It is going to be called the Geo-Green Party, and it is going to win a lot of centrist voters. The next Ross Perot will be green.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (5/3/06):

Yes, our system is rigged against third parties. Still, my gut says that some politician, someday soon, just to be different, just for the fun of it, will take a flier on telling Americans the truth. The right candidate with the right message on energy might be able to drive a bus right up the middle of the U.S. political scene today — lose the far left and the far right — and still maybe, just maybe, win a three-way election.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (6/16/06):

Frankly, I wish we did not need a third party. I wish the Democrats would adopt a Geo-Green agenda as their own. (Republicans never would.) But if not, I hope it will become the soul of a third party…

To be sure, Geo-Greenism is not a complete philosophy on par with liberalism or conservatism. But it can be paired with either of them to make them more relevant to the biggest challenges of our time. Even if Geo-Greenism couldn’t attract enough voters to win an election, it might attract a big enough following to frighten both Democrats and Republicans into finally doing the right things.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (10/3/10):

Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome.

There is a revolution brewing in the country, and it is not just on the right wing but in the radical center. I know of at least two serious groups, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, developing “third parties” to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline.

Like a stopped clock, Friedman may be right this time — Americans Elect seems better organized and funded than previous ill-fated efforts like Unity ’08. It’s certainly possible that they will put a credible candidate on the ballot in most or all states. But all the other factors that make it so difficult for independent candidates to successfully challenge the established parties still apply (ask Ross Perot!).

[Cross-posted at]

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Brendan Nyhan

Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College.