Donald Trump

Post-Trump, Do We Really Want a Viable Third Party? Survey Says Yes, History Says GTFO

Lincoln was the last person to win the presidency as standard-bearer for a new party. And look what happened to him.



GOP adviser Juleanna Glover writes in The New York Times that more and more "disaffected Republicans are wondering whether, if they came up with a truly great candidate, they could jump-start a new party, just as the original Republicans did in the 1850s."

If they did, they would also be delivering something that a majority of all Americans (and a super-majority of younger voters) say they want: a viable third choice in politics.

A September Gallup poll found 61 percent of American the idea of a third major political party, the highest level of support Gallup had ever recorded. Young voters seem especially eager to junk the two-party system; NBC reported in November that 71 percent of millennials want another choice.

In a world in which Alabama voters elected a Democratic senator, all kinds of previously unimaginable possibilities make a new kind of sense. A third-party presidency in 2020 is no less likely today than the prospect of Donald Trump's election appeared to be two years ago.

Of course we want more choices! We can get any goddamned coffee drink we can dream up at the shittiest convenience store we walk into, we can choose among 50-plus gender identities on Facebook, we can instantly stream virtually any movie or TV show we hanker after. This is the golden age of personalization! Politics and the parts of our world that politics command (such as medical care and K-12 education) are the only places left where monopoly and duopoly rule. As political scientist Morris P. Fiorina notes in Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting, and Political Stalemate, the Republicans and Democrats have become ideologically pure with virtually no overlap between them. Republicans are conservatives, which means they are anti-abortion, pro-defense and surveillance, anti-immigration, and yet ostensibly for small government. Democrats are the liberal party: pro-choice on abortion (and nothing else) and in favor of a more-expansive safety net, against gun rights, for heightened business regulations, and ostensibly against war and the surveillance state (as with the Republicans, the operative word here is ostensibly).

Fiorina finds that as the two major parties have moved to the ends of the spectrum, American voters have mostly remained centrist; independents are the single-largest bloc of voters. Most of us are OK with current levels of immigration, for instance, or want more; OK with current abortion laws that give unfettered access for the first trimester and less as a pregnancy develops; are suspicious of war and defense spending; and on and on. But we don't get to express those beliefs in the choices either party offers up. As a result, says Fiorina, we're in a new "Era of No-Decision," like the one that characterized national politics between 1874 and 1894. Not even two decades into the 21st century, we've seen as many switches in control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate as we saw in the last 50 years of the 20th century. Each party starts each national election with about 30 percent of the vote in its pocket and then fights over the 40 percent of voters who are up for grabs.

So yes yes yes to a third choice, if not necessarily the ones the Glover skylarks in the Times:

Ask your neighbor whether the idea of a Joe Biden-Ben Sasse independent ticket is appealing — with Mr. Biden pledging to serve only four years (to address concerns about his age). Jeff Flake or Bob Corker could be a contender.

Another possibility: a business executive with a record of sound leadership, moral authority and a quick wit: the financier David Rubenstein, Ginni Rometty of IBM or Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, perhaps? How about a centrist Republican governor like Larry Hogan of Maryland, John Kasich of Ohio or Charlie Baker of Massachusetts? And then, of course, there's Oprah.

None of these people is particularly exciting or interesting because they don't actually represent anything particularly new or different from what the parties already offer. It took eight years of serving as Barack Obama's vice-president to transform Joe Biden from a laff riot to an elder statesman and the transformation was never convincing (watch this). John Kasich was in the last Republican primary season and didn't do particularly well, partly because he represents the worst tendencies of both parties. He's an unapologetic big spender and social conservative who just signed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, hates pot legalization, and continues to defend Medicare expansion and Common Core. Even Oprah isn't buying into her campaign these days; one two-minute speech at an awards show is a slender reed to hang a future on.

More meaningfully, in 2016, the Libertarian Party put together a presidential ticket with as much administrative experience as the GOP and Democratic tickets combined. Johnson/Weld set vote records for the LP but still never made it out of the pits and on to the racetrack itself.

The third-party dream is mostly that, a dream of a savior who will reboot the political machine. In a sense, this is what Trump pulled off in 2016, running less as a Republican and more as an independent who bent the GOP to his base desires. The Republicans have been mostly anti-immigrant for a long time (nativists sank George W. Bush's original DREAM Act in the mid-aughts) but the Donald added protectionism to the stew, along with a certain winking tolerance for what Ted Cruz denounced as "New York values" (when's the last time you heard Trump rail against the gays? Or support Jeff Sessions' new war on pot?). Bernie Sanders pushed Hillary Clinton so hard in the primaries she started face-planting into her getaway cars; more influentially, he's pushed the Democrats much farther to the progressive left. Like the Roman Empire in Edward Gibbon's telling, the parties will be torn down from internal strife, not a dashing pirate swinging in to the presidential debates on an sparkly new ideological chandelier.

That's simply a reality check, though, and not cause for depression. If the Trump presidency proves anything, it's that the near-future is non-linear and anything is possible (though not predictable). The trick is for the 40 percent of us who decide every election to bend either party to our wills the way that Trump has done with Republicans. Or, as Matt Welch and I wrote in The Declaration of Independents, create ad hoc alliances that coalesce over specific issues and policies rather than fixating on hostile takeovers of the last remaining duopoly in American life.

NEXT: Trump's Turned Republicans Into Everything They Once Hated

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  1. Johnson/Weld set vote records for the LP but still never made it out of the pits and on to the racetrack itself.

    That’s because Weld was busy hanging out with Hillary’s pit crew and Johnson wandered out of the speedway entirely to look at butterflies or something. I mean, i still voted for them, but come on.

    1. I mean you sort of have to be nuts to want the job in the first place. I don’t know how Harry Browne managed to appear so normal.

      1. A certain mental disconnectedness is necessary for a politician whose whole thing is that politicians make things worse.

      2. That’s simple. Harry Browne was a professional con man, and we Libertarians were his marks. He was just running for President to sell some of his books and enjoy the buffets.

        At least, that’s my conclusion after watching him campaign twice.

        Mind, if my some fell miracle he’d ended up President, he’d probably have been a good one. But he was in it strictly for himself.

    2. Pits? I thought it was a horse race.

    3. Exactly, Johnson started out strong and then got distracted. Weld was always a poor excuse for a Libertarian. And yes I voted for them also.

    4. ………I just started 7 weeks ago and I’ve gotten 2 check for a total of $2,000…this is the best decision I made in a long time! “Thank you for giving me this extraordinary opportunity to make extra money from home.
      go to this site for more details…..

  2. If we have a viable third party, we could end up with someone a fringe group chose. Someone crazy like Gary Johnson. And nobody wants that.

    1. We already have a viable third party (the LP). 50 (or near 50) state ballot access there for the taking. People don’t want “a third party” — they want “a third party with someone I like on the ticket”.

  3. The third-party dream is mostly that

    A sad but realistic change in rhetoric? Or will the ‘Moment’ return like the shifting tides?

    1. Did Trump break Nick’s will to live?

  4. Republicans are conservatives, which means they are anti-abortion, pro-defense and surveillance, anti-immigration, and yet ostensibly for small government.

    As long as Republicans are on the wrong side of history on our two most pressing issues, libertarians cannot afford the luxury of throwing our votes away on third parties. The choice between a religious fundamentalist white nationalist party (GOP) and a slightly imperfect party (Dems) is not a “lesser of two evils” scenario. The Democrats are so obviously objectively better that supporting them is the only logical approach.

    Maybe if, at some point in the future, Republicans finally embrace open borders and elective post-20-week abortion access, then a case could be made the two major parties are similar enough that a third party is needed.

    1. Abortion and Immigration are the two most pressing issues in this country? That’s simply fucking ridiculous. And worst of all, it’s not even like a hypothetical R vs D fight over entitlements (as if they would ever actually have that fight). No, those two issues are fights over the smallest little differences. They’re not fighting over whether or not abortion will be legal. They’re fighting over whether it should be covered by insurance and whether the mom should have to see an ultra-sound. There’s no serious threat to abortion access (aside from a few states that are trying to legislate clinics out of existence). It’s like trench fighting in WWI with days of fighting over a couple hundred yards.

      1. It’s a parody account that is, also, unwittingly a self-parody account. For example, by making fun of left-libertarians for allegedly claiming that abortion and immigration are the most important issues, which bothers him, he reveals that these are indeed the most important issues for him. In fact, the reason left-libertarians discuss these two issues so much is precisely because if right-libertarian freak outs about these issues and their abandonment of small government principles when it comes to these issues.

        1. Fascinating theory. It’s almost as convincing as the one put forth by another Hit and Run regular that I’m actually a “commie.”

          1. You know he’s right.

            1. Chipper Morning Baculum and his comment, that is.

          2. So we should apologize for offending commies everywhere?

        2. Yes, I abandon my small government principles when it comes to abortion. Murder of people who are older, too.

  5. It is somewhat shocking to see so many people just taking for granted all the choices they have available to them in the marketplace, yet insist on restricting choice when it comes to government-provided things.

    1. Please tell me I missed the sarc tag. A bit dull witted today.

  6. Nick, could you take a look at the first sentences of paragraph 3 and 5? It looks like you are missing an “s” in the former and a “course” in the latter. I stopped reading at Of we want more choices! maybe I’ll try again later.

  7. “Fiorina finds that as the two major parties have moved to the ends of the spectrum”

    Fiorina is also a dumbass. Far from moving towards opposite ends of the spectrum, R’s and D’s have continued moving in an increasingly authoritarian direction. And, in doing so, have become more similar to each other than they ever were before. Sure, there are a couple of hot button issues that form the staples of their platforms and serve as popular arguing points for their useful idiots. But, the overall nature of their arguments quick blend together and can be boiled down to little more than authoritarian rule. And that’s how we end up with moronic arguments where people like Sanders and Warren are arguing that Trump’s policies need to be even more protectionist.

  8. The problem with the LP, and any 3rd party attempt, is that they cannot overcome the “wasted vote syndrome”. As much as someone may want to vote for someone new, they will still be controlled more by their fear than by their aspirations. Just like Open Borders above, they will vote for the lesser evil to avoid what they perceive to be the greater evil.

    The ONLY way to stop this phenomenon is to change the way we hold elections. We must switch to a system of Ranked Choice Voting. This allows people to cast their vote for the candidate they LIKE the best, while still holding onto their second ranking to protect against the candidate they FEAR the most. Once this happens, 3rd parties, like the Libertarians, will immediately start polling in the teens and twenties rather than low single digits. That will cause the media and the public at large to take them much more seriously, and by the next election cycle they will be in the 30s and ready to garner a governing plurality.

    Maine has lead the way by passing RCV through state-wide initiative. More states need to follow this lead. It will take time. don;t expect success overnight. Just like marijuana legalization took 30-40 years to go from a fringe movement to near tipping point today, It will take decades to change our system nationwide. But change it we must. Until we do we will continue to have elections based non who people hate more – tweedle-dum or tweedle-dumber.

    1. The current argument against RCV, as I hear it on the news here in Maine, is the ballots themselves. It only applies to state elections, not federal. It’s all sour grapes about LePage anyway.

      1. Voters select electors. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I believe each state can make the rules for selecting their own electors any way they want. If a state wants to use RCV, that’s a state issue.

        1. Do not overlook the compromise, the Maine/Nebraska method od selecting electors.

    2. Plurality voting is the worst possible system, where X wins an election even though not-X has majority support (as far as one can tell given what the poll asks). And yet it’s the way almost everyone is elected in the United States. It might be the most understandable method, but it has the worst mathematical qualities.

    3. “”The problem with the LP, and any 3rd party attempt, is that they cannot overcome the “wasted vote syndrome”. “”


      I have a friend that said people like me (could not pull the lever for either smelly candidate), were the reason Trump won. He wasn’t smart enough to figure out that because I live in NY, I could have voted for Trump and it would not have helped him, since my state went for Hillary.

      The wasted vote syndrome is an attempt by partisan hacks, to demonize the non-party players that believe a candidate must win you over. Vote groupthink or feel their wrath. It’s like the idea of voting for your values isn’t relative to picking a leader.

      1. And if Hillary had won, the same reasoning would tell that person (or his right wing counterpart) that people like you (and me) are the reason why Hillary won.

        1. Probably, it’s the nature of partisan politics.

    4. Of course they can overcome the “wasted” vote syndrome. Just nominate a celebrity candidate with enough cash and a passing affinity for freedom and smaller government.

    5. Those who cast the votes decide nothing.
      Those who count the votes decide everything.
      -Josef Stalin (apocryphal)

      No, it’s those who decide how we count the votes!

      Trust me, here in the United States it would take people very little time to figure out how to game RCV if enough was at stake. The proof is to be found in Europe, where similar voting systems yield the same old faces you’d get with a two-party system.

      The Whig party died because they were too squishy on slavery when a real alternative to the Democrat position was needed. The Republican party took its place. If the Libertarian party truly wishes to prosper, it will have to find a place where one party is hardline and the other party is squishy and work to make that the big issue. Actually Trump did this with immigration which is how he outmaneuvered everyone else in the Republican primaries. So what will Libertarians go to the mat over where one of the parties is hard the other way and the other party is ambivalent? There’s where success will come.

    6. The problem for the LP is that we knew when we first started that we’d have to grow really fast, and get too big to crush, before the major parties got wise to the threat and basically outlawed us. And we didn’t. We grew slowly enough that they woke to the threat while we were still small, and enacted all sorts of measures to keep us small.

      Most of the campaign “reforms” of the last 40 years were aimed at the LP, not “corruption”. And they succeeded. 3rd parties are now effectively illegal in the US, permitted just enough room to exist to make it look like our political system is still free.

  9. Of we want more choices!

    I hope the new intern is a good editor and catches bloopers like this.

    1. The new intern will be too busy fetching fruit sushi, walking Yorkies, taking The Jacket out to feed on the homeless, mixing up hair dye for KMW, ironing Matt’s bowties, and updating Bailey’s DNA analysis.

      1. Fruit sushi? That’s a joke, right?

        1. I can’t find the link, but ENB revealed that Robby got fat-shamed by a waiter once because he can’t control himself when hors d’oeuvres of rice topped with fruit are involved.

        2. Surely you’ve noticed almost two years of fruit sushi references regarding our Mr. Soave?

          1. Nope. Can’t say that I have.

          2. Sarc’s a sock! It’s a sarc sock!!

        3. here’s the link to the reference


          1. Thanks for the laugh!

          2. Looks like lap83 has volunteered to be Hit’n’Run’s new archivist! Good luck filling SugarFree’s massive orthopedic shoes.

  10. Lincoln was the last person to win the presidency as standard-bearer for a new party. And look what happened to him.

    I suspect this is just a throwaway joke, but if a third party president ever really did start upsetting the Democrat/Republican apple cart he’d catch a bullet in the head. The ruling class never gives up its power that easy.

  11. Libertarians need a high profile celebrity who makes them hip and cool, and allows random non-political people to virtue signal via supporting them. That’s how you win these days.

      1. How about Mike Rowe/Rob Lowe? Who could resist a rhyming ticket?

        1. would vote

        2. Where’s Chad Lowe in this administration?

          1. Secretary of Defense, obviously.

        3. Rob Low/Bob Loblow

        4. I would vote for Mike Rowe in a heartbeat even though I’m pretty sure I would regret it.

          1. He would make you get a job!

        5. I vote Mike Rowe/Big Boi.

        6. Rowe, Rowe, Rowe your boat.

          1. One hung low?

    1. Penn and Teller. They would be the first administration that wouldn’t have to gag the VP at some point.

    2. Just convince Nick Offerman to play Ron Swanson on the campaign trail.

  12. Can’t throw your vote away.

    1. Throw your vote at Rowe and Lowe!

      The slogans write themselves.

  13. Nobody needs more than one party.

  14. Reason staff are libertarians, who are pro-abortion rights under most any circumstances, yet are ostensibly for the non-agression principle.

    1. What’s that called when you assume the very thing that is under debate?

      1. Ask Gillespie.

      2. Begging The Question

  15. Perhaps a better, more modern 3rd party to look at would be Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. He got ~19% of the popular vote in 1992. A goal that should be reasonable for the LP in the next election, given the likely unpopularity of the candidates.

    How did Perot deliver such results? Primarily by focusing on one or two issues that differentiated himself from the other 2 parties. This is something that the LP doesn’t do very well, even though there are obvious choices available where the LP has highly popular positions: ending the never-ending war, ending the surveillance state, reducing the debt, legalizing MJ.

    Libertarianism has never been known for pragmatism. That’s ultimately always going to hurt in national elections.

    1. That, and voters being stupid.

      1. More that most voters do not like where libertarianism tells them “no” when it comes to brass tacks of impllementing pollicy. How many of the people who want legalized pot also want it heavily regulated so it does not get overly commercialized?

        The people who say they are socially liberal and fiscally conservative in the abstract are much less so in the specific.

      2. It’s that attitude that lost the election for Hillary!

    2. I’m pretty sure you nailed it on how to get results.

      Assuming the 2 parties don’t cement themselves even further into being the only options, the next time the Libertarians get a shot at office they really need to get themselves a good PR person and then stick to an incredibly focussed message.

      Once they get in to office they can do all the damage to the system they want. Bait and switch is the name of the election game.

  16. ….the Republicans and Democrats have become ideologically pure with virtually no overlap between them.

    Except when it comes to spending 4 trillion bucks a year, sending troops to half a dozen countries to engage in hostilities, and enabling the NSA to spy on everyone at home.

  17. Libertarians whine about Johnson/Weld not being ideologically pure. As if Trump/Pence had matching NAP tattoos and Clinton/Kaine were handing out copies of Atlas Shrugged. Yeah right.

    Ideological purity is why we’re still eternally stuck with the Dumbocrats and Rethuglicans. Because the lesser of three evils isn’t pure enough so gotta pull the lever for Stalin/Hitler. Sigh.

    1. The ideological purity only really affects the primary process. I’d say that Johnson/Weld are an argument that maybe the LP isn’t necessarily only concerned with ideological purity. Johnson/Weld won, IMO, because of their ability to tout that they’ve been in office before.

      The general electorate doesn’t care about ideological purity. They want to know that a candidate stands closest to their viewpoint on pet issues. This is why the LP has to focus on the areas where the parties really aren’t that different, IMO.

  18. Nick, come to our panel discussion “Unsplitting the Vote” at 4pm Saturday, 10 Feb, at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum:
    There will be no viable third parties as long as we have a choose-one plurality voting method.

    More background:

  19. If the 2020 LP candidate were Andrew Napolitano all the reasoning in this fine Reason article looks thin.

  20. I have said this since at least the 1990s (and believed it for longer): The only thing that the major (power-hungry) parties respect is what they fear: Someone or something who can snatch electoral victory out of their grasp, either by winning outright or by being a spoiler who can reliably throw the election to the detested major party opponent. Even if it hardly ever wins an election, but remains a credible contender, a strong third-party can act as the “governor” on our politics, the “adult” in the room, and this is why that party needs to be essentially ideological in nature, as the Libertarians are. So yes, we need (and, in my opinion, have ALWAYS needed) a viable third-party that, because of its ideological nature, cannot be bought, and instead “buys” concessions from the bigger players in the game, always nudging the politics and the country in the direction of more true individual liberty. It’s not a glamorous role, but, as I see things, it is a necessary and honorable one.

  21. New Chic Health Care Briefs

    Fire in the disco. Fire in the Taco Bell.

  22. Do writers think they’re clever when they use acronyms with curse words?

  23. The thing that could really move POTUS center-north would be a party that actually legally bound its candidates to the Libertarian Platform – which represents the views of many independants. As we have seen, Libertarian candidates who have sufficient celebrity status to be noticed tend to go their own way. In well-publicized interviews, both Weld and Johnson casually admitted that they did not “entirely” agree with the Libertarian Platform. In other words, they went rogue BEFORE being elected. Imagine their rogueness if they were actually elected.

    The whole point of Libertarianism is not just to prevent those in high office from gaining too much power, but to REDUCE their power. The power to change the rules is the power of a tyrant.

    My proposal legally binds elected federal officials to the platform by creating a mechanism by which they could be called out when they transgress: /document/d/1DakKcOvAhdxkjj9utBEzV7XWk _KEagA-tTzEqEY1hHU/edit?usp=sharing

    1. To view the above link, connect the three sections after com and before the _. The “word” was too long to post without being split.

    2. Ben Franklin’s diary told of bonding to prevent elected officials from voting for taxes. Libertarian Candidate Fred Ebner was bonded never to vote for a tax hike in Austin in the 1980s.
      I’d be happy to find candidates who can read the damn platform.

      1. http:/

  24. When most Americans say that they want a viable third-party candidate to vote for, what they really mean is that they want a third-party candidate who will split the other side’s voters.

    1. I would love to believe that voters are that smart, but I don’t.

  25. Cowards who throw away their vote on the Kleptocracy are slowing progress. Spoiler votes for the LP tell looter politicians to change bad laws or be defeated. Any way you look at it, the LP wins (repeals bad laws) through the spoiler votes cast by persons with enough integrity to send a clear message. Our 1972 platform plank on choice made it into Roe v. Wade, so yes! It works!

  26. Gimme a puff o’ that stuff…

    It has never worked here and it never will.

  27. We need Christian Anarchy as a third party. Live to your understanding of the Bible teachings and ignore any unBiblical laws and encourage the use of jury nullification.

  28. I offer for your delectation the Pirate Party.

    It’s like the Libertarian platform, but purple.

  29. May want to add in the obstacles the 2 major parties throw at any competition and it’s a tough road to go. Better to support those like Rand Paul, Massie, Mike Lee and others that are libertarian or at least libertarian leaning to get enough representation in the house and senate to influence policy.

  30. Sure, seventy percent of Americans want a third party. But do you think you could find even 34% (a slim plurality if the existing parties are evenly split) that agree on what that third party would have in it’s plank?

  31. ” create ad hoc alliances that coalesce over specific issues and policies rather than fixating on hostile takeovers of the last remaining duopoly in American life.”

    Would coalescing by Libertarians and Constitutionalists around Rand Paul meet that description?

  32. Want a strong third party? Go for a parliamentary system like Canada or Israel. Smaller parties tend to do well under attractive leaders.

  33. well, if you had a viable national 3rd party then every election would be decided by congress, because it is pretty much certain that no candidate would get a majority of electoral votes.

    but back to the stupid prattle of reason’s army of silver-spoon wielding fratboy douchebags (i.e. libertarians)….

  34. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,


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