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Don’t Daydream of a Third Party President

Plus: The rubber band theory of politics.
April 20, 2023
Why a 3rd Party Will Fail in 2024 | Not My Party with Tim Miller

[Editor’s note: Watch Not My Party every week on Snapchat.]

Tim Miller: Can a third-party outsider disrupt the 2024 election?

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (from How to Train Your Dragon 2): Wouldn’t that be something?

Miller: This is “Not My Party,” brought to you by The Bulwark. Last week I laid out what the odds were for the 2024 election and left just a 5 percent chance for someone totally unexpected.

Lucifer (Tom Ellis on Lucifer): There is a small chance.

Miller: Given that the two leading contenders are so old that they were alive for the Negro Leagues, some of you might logically be wondering how that could be possible?

Noah Griffith (Jonah Hill in The Sitter): That’s uncomfortable.

Miller: You’d think such weak contenders would make 2024 ripe for a surprise. Some people agree—but not me. A group called No Labels is funding a nationwide effort to get another option on the ballot.

Young C.W. Longbottom (Josh Brener on Mythic Quest): Choices upon choices.

Miller: Andrew Yang has started the Forward Party. My mom is just exasperated that these could be the only choices.

Raymond Schmidt (unknown actor on The Wire): We do the best we can.

Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick on The Wire): This is bullsh**.

Miller: And I get it. Really, I do. But in a counterintuitive way, the candidate-quality issues and the extent of our polarization actually make it less likely for third-party success.

Bernadette Rostenkowski (Melissa Ivy Rauch on The Big Bang Theory): Yeah, you’re gonna have to walk me through that.

Miller: There are two main reasons why. One, we’re living in a time of extreme negative partisanship. Negative partisanship is a concept where voters are committed to one side, not so much because they love their candidate, but because they despise the other candidate.

Homer Simpson (from The Simpsons): I hate them so much!

Miller: So if you are the type to (correctly) think that Donald Trump might literally end our democracy, you are less likely to risk “wasting” your vote on a third party, even if you don’t love Joe Biden because you don’t want to take a chance that it could help Trump.

Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep): Well, he must be stopped.

Miller: The same is true the other way. If you (incorrectly) think that Biden stole the election and has dementia, even if you hate Trump’s bleats, you are still likely to go with him rather than to waste your vote on someone else.

Ka D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe on Farscape): I would choose the lesser of the evil.

Louie (Louis C.K. on Louie): That’s not what’s going on here.

Miller: Consider: The modern election where a third-party candidate did best was Ross Perot in 1992. Back then, the two main candidates were seen as pretty close together. George H.W. Bush was a moderate Republican and Bill Clinton ran as a moderate Southern Democrat.

Bobby Brady (Mike Lookinland on The Brady Bunch): Is this how it was in the olden times?

Miller: The perception of the two candidates as kind of similar made people more comfortable throwing in with a wildcard like Perot. The stakes just felt lower.

Heinz Doofenshmirtz (from Phineas and Ferb): Let’s mix it up a little.

Miller: The other reason: our political rubber band. Think of a rubber band. When it’s slack, the middle is close together. As it gets pulled apart, think about how far the center right is from the center left. The spread out rubber band is our politics now. Back to Perot. He won over 15 percent of Republicans and Democrats, but he still didn’t win any states. So you’d need at least 20 percent from both sides to even have a chance. That means you’d need voters from both sides of the rubber band, people who, for example, like Donald Trump and his policies on this side or people that like Kamala Harris and woke stuff on that side. Who do you think could pull that off?

Dwayne Johnson: If this is what the people want, then I will do that.

Miller: All right, maybe the Rock. Who else?

Albert Mason (Paul Copley on Downton Abbey): You could do worse.

Miller: The types of names that get brought up in this conversation—Andrew Yang, Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin, Mark Cuban, Liz Cheney—they all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but do you think any of them could unite those two tribes?

Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman on Ozark): Uh, no. Uh-uh.

Miller: I don’t. Could something happen that changes the game entirely? Sure. Trump could die. We could discover that the Chinese balloons were actually aliens. Or some super-charismatic person or AI that I’m not thinking of could brainwash people who like Kamala and people who like Trump to both like them.

Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton on Penny Dreadful): Do you think such a thing is possible?

Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons on The Big Bang Theory): Meh.

Miller: And so even if we don’t like it, our polarization and political structure lead us back to the major party options: Ron, Don, or Joe. Such is life in America 2023.

Kane (Kelvin Yu on Grandma’s Boy): This menu sucks.

Dot Warner (from Animaniacs): American-style!

Miller: See you next time for more “Not My Party.”

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.