The restless political middle — emboldened by the recent inability of a special congressional committee to agree on a debt-reduction deal — is staking out a controversial plan to insert itself into the 2012 election.

A bipartisan group of political strategists and donors known as Americans Elect has raised $22 million and is likely to place a third presidential candidate on the ballot in every state next year. The goal is to provide an alternative to President Obama and the GOP nominee and break the tradition of a Democrat-vs.-Republican lineup.

The effort could represent a promising new chapter for political moderates, who see a wide-open middle in the political landscape as congressional gridlock and bitter partisan fights have driven down favorability ratings for both parties.

“Voters are saddened by the inability of people in Washington to deal with the issues that are important to them,” said the group’s chief executive, Kahlil Byrd, a Republican strategist who once worked for Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D).

I don’t doubt that these people are well intentioned. Their hearts are in the right place; they want what’s best for the country; and I’m glad they’re taking an interest in the election.

But gimmicks are not going to solve meaningful challenges facing the country.

Americans Elect wants a split presidential ticket, requiring their nominee to pick a running mate from a different party. It’s not clear why. Parties have different agendas, which is why there are different parties. Why should a president and vice president have different views about government and policy? Because it would apparently make Americans Elect feel better.

How would Americans Elect go about putting together a platform? They don’t know. It’d apparently be “moderate,” which has come to mean “we agree with Democrats but don’t want to say so.”

If they were successful, how would Americans Elect overcome Republican radicalism? Or the filibuster rules? They don’t know this, either.

The folks behind efforts like these have a terrific opportunity to make a real difference. They could evaluate the two parties, determine which of the two are offering compelling solutions to the problems they care about, and then provide the kind of support their allies need to win and advance their agenda.

An online reality-show campaign may sound very nice in a boardroom, but it’s a waste of time, energy, and resources that could be put to far better use.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.