Goo-Goo Mischief-Makers

I’ve been ignoring the whole Americans Elect phenomenon in the hopes that it would somehow go away, like many earlier do-gooder efforts aimed at creating a third party that avoids the messy process of actually believing in something other than its own nobility. But now that the group is using its hedge-fund donations to buy ballot access in a significant number of states, it’s probably time to pay attention. It’s been generally assumed that the whole enterprise was created to give Michael Bloomberg the option of running for president if that strikes his fancy, but Americans Elect’s ballot lines could become a tempting target for other billionaires or for crazy people. Indeed, as Ruth Marcus recently pointed out, the “democratic” internet-based process Americans Elect says it will use for choosing a presidential ticket seems tailor-made for exploitation by, say, the Ron Paul Revolution or somebody like Donald Trump.

That, of course, is that rationalization for the anti-democratic measures built into Americans Elect’s structure: the power of a board to set aside (subject to a veto override from “voters”) the People’s Choice in order to create a legitimately “balanced, centrist” ticket, whatever that means.

As Jon Chait notes today, it’s all a recipe for mischief, and perhaps multiple third-party candidacies:

[T]he picture is that you could have any of Trump, Paul, or [Gary] Johnson, running on the Americans Elect line, or possibly in addition to an Americans Elect candidate. All these decisions will be heavily influenced by behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Americans Elect may not have only a struggle between its voters and its elites. Surely the Republican and Democratic Parties will try to get involved. Since third parties tend to hurt major party candidates most ideologically similar to themselves, the GOP will try to push liberal alternatives, like Bloomberg, into the race, while the Democrats will try to get right-wingers like Trump or Paul to run. Obama’s aides are warning loudly against the undemocratic nature of Americans Elect’s leadership. They don’t care about transparency, they care about letting Americans Elect help their candidate rather than hurt him. The outcome of these maneuverings could have a far larger impact than many of the stories the media is obsessively covering.

Yep. Sinister or simply naive, the organizers of Americans Elect could be opening a real-life Pandora’s Box.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.