The Americans Elect flameout: Is there any hope for a third party?

The Week

Centrist pundits were excited about this year's online push to draft a viable third-party presidential candidate. The tallied votes show that they were the only ones

Americans Elect spent $35 million to get a credible third-party candidate on the 2012 presidential ballot, round up 420,000 online delegates, and bring a new breed of independent, direct democracy to America's two-party system. Early Tuesday morning, the group said everything has gone according to plan, except for one small detail: They don't have a candidate. Monday at midnight was the deadline for the competing candidates to get enough online votes — at least 10,000 — to qualify for the group's online convention in June. The highest vote-getter, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (R), barely cracked 6,000. If a well-funded, well-organized, pundit-approved organization like Americans Elect can't succeed, is there any hope for the chimerical goal of a viable third party in U.S. politics?

This bodes very ill for third parties: If there were ever a year for a third party to makes its mark, 2012 fit the bill, says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. We're in a "time of historic unhappiness with Congress," and disheartened Americans say they want a third-party or independent choice for president. But no "big-name candidates" stepped up, so it seems that even with Americans Elect's fat bank account and a guaranteed spot on the ballot in at least 27 states, "the institutional and motivational barriers" to a viable third party are just too high.
"Americans Elect: the third party's latest death knell"

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Don't count Americans Elect out yet: A lot of specific things went wrong this year, but the organizers aren't giving up, says John Avlon at The Daily Beast. There's still time to extend the qualifying deadline, or even recruit a real A-list candidate. Even if Americans Elect proves to be "an idea ahead of its time," or just too flawed to seize the moment, there's still "a deep need for increased constructive competition in our polarized political system." This big investment in a new kind of democracy will pay off, if not now then in an inevitable future reform effort.
"Americans Elect failure... threatens third-party dreams"

You can't buy a third-party president: The $8 million in seed money from hedge-fund manager Peter Ackerman, plus $27 million from other donors, didn't buy a candidate, but it did buy a couple of "tips for the next coalition of enlightened people who want to save American democracy," says David Weigel at Slate. First, don't attempt grassroots democracy with "serious hedge fund" cash and a secretive cabal of organizers. More importantly, "you don't break the power of the parties by running in a presidential election." You start small, with Congress.
"Nobody for president"

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