As we quickly approach the November elections, a number of voters are contemplating a terrible decision: elect a bombastic twat known as Trump or the pathological liar Hillary Clinton as president? Naturally, a growing number are looking for a third option. This has prompted supporters of the Libertarian party to gleefully showcase their candidate Gary Johnson as the sane solution to American presidential problems. And their betting his success at the polls could very well pave the way for the existence of a strong third party.
But there are a few problems that need to be addressed before a third party can be a viable alternative to the GOP and Democrats.First, a strong third party is historically un-American. This is not to say the US has only ever had two powerful parties. Rather our history shows that a bipartisan system is what has worked best for Americans in general. Consider the American Party, better known as the Know-Nothings. They were unified under a common understanding of America for Americans, immigrant workers need not apply. They even held a number of state legislatures and a few national offices. Their problem was the issue of slavery and the ability to unite Americans who held opposing views of social and moral ethics. Eventually, the Know-Nothings were divided and absorbed by parties which offered broader policy platforms and provided more popular policy solutions regarding slavery. Similar fates awaited the Progressive, Wobbles, and other potential third parties.
Second, third parties tend to be either too broad in ideology that it is difficult for members to show loyalty to a common agenda like the Progressive Party of the early 1900s. Or they restrict themselves to a select few policy issues like the Ecology Party in Florida. In both cases, they run the risk of being absorbed by one or both of the existing parties or dismissed for ignoring other pressing issues to voters.
Third, the more “successful” third parties are usually splinter or unhappy constituents of the preexisting parties. Two examples of these include the Bull-Moose Party and the Reformed Party of America. The former was in response Teddy Roosevelt’s distaste for the Taft Administration. Similarly, Ross Perot brought the Reformed Party to national headlines with his disgust for the GOP and the Democrats in the 1990s. In both cases, they drew away enough voters to prevent one of the larger parties from winning. But they did not win enough to become a party in their own right. Their views were simply too similar to the ones already held by the larger parties.
These obstacles face the Libertarian Party with hardly answers for how it will overcome them. Like a resounding gong, libertarians are saying their party and candidate are sane alternatives to Trump and Clinton. That’s what TR and Ross Perot said of their opponents. The Libertarian focus is generally economic and fiscal policy. Social issues receive little to no attention despite the interest they receive from media and voters. As a result, they have a hard time reconciling the strong differences of opinions regarding abortion, gun-control, and same-sex marriage.
No doubt some will respond to this with, “Well, what alternatives do you have to offer?” I have none and that is not the purpose of this post. An alternative to Trump and Clinton would be greatly appreciated. However, that ship sailed during the primaries due to lack of leadership and media stupidity on the Right and apparent party corruption on the Left. A third party option might assuage the conscience of some voters. But it won’t do much else.