A reader writes:
On the debate over whether a third-party candidate would be a good idea, your reader who asks what it would look like if such a candidate actually won is spot-on:
Would he get better cooperation from the Republicans in Congress than Obama for anything significant? Would the Democrats embrace the guy who kicked their guy out? If the Congress was devoted first and foremost to governing the country, there might be a chance for an independent President to accomplish something.
The two parties would be united in trying to annihilate this upstart. It would be in their interests to show that such a candidate simply couldn't work. If presidents were independent of parties, those parties would lose their chance to control the sources of patronage when their party holds the White House. An independent victory would be a recipe for four years of utter gridlock.
Instead, a centrist third party should focus on winning seats in both the House and Senate. A grouping of as little as, say, eight to ten Senate seats would create a swing group any President could appeal to in order to break a deadlock on individual issues.
At the moment, the two-party system makes government an all-or-nothing issue. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have any reason to compromise with a President from the opposing party – and this is even more the case when sitting Representatives or Senators are subject to challenges from the purist wings of their parties, as happened with Tea Party challenges in the midterms. Their aim is to unseat the incumbent, so they block in order to make the President look bad. Hence the difficulties Obama has had in compromising – there's just no reason for the Republicans to give any ground, because that gives him victories.
Another agrees with focusing on the legislature:
Look at the balance in the U.S. Senate, or more locally for me in the Virginia State House, and the possibilities are clear: three or four focused races by a third, independent party could affect the power in the Senate. Simply look at Nevada in 2010, with Reid clearly at risk (by all rights he should have been beaten), and Angle challenging from the far right. I think anyone with some financial backing and actual support (that Angle didn't get from the Republicans) could have taken that seat. Pick three more across the country and you've got a start to real change.
The problem with the Tea Party idea was that they relied on the logistics and support of the GOP to get elected. Neither the Tea Party nor the GOP were ever going to survive that marriage and the results in 2012 will probably bear that out – I believe the Democrats will add a few seats in the Senate and re-take the House. The reason it didn't work is because the Tea Party wasn't an independent party and the GOP was simply selling its soul at the crossroads in order to take back Congress. Unfortunately, the bill is now due.
Jonathan Bernstein recently advised what a third-party candidate should look like.