Spike Cohen, the Libertarian vice presidential candidate, joined Tyler Salk on The Wild Side earlier this week. He spoke broadly of the “Republicrats” in Washington who maintain the status quo of forever wars and national debt without listening to — or solving — the problems of Americans.
“[The Republicrats] have a vested interest in making sure we aren’t heard,” Cohen said. “They control every lever of power and media to do that.”
Perhaps that’s true. Those in power get to write the rules. As Cohen pointed out, equal airtime laws don’t apply to third parties, and third parties have to fight tooth-and-nail to get on the ballot while Democrats and Republicans receive that honor automatically.
But simply complaining about the rules isn’t enough — you have to be in power to change them.
A third-party presidential candidate has rarely found success in the American system. The last moderately successful third-party candidate was Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, and the last third-party candidate to win at least one state was George Wallace in 1968. In fact, third-party candidates have only received at least five percent of the vote 12 times in American history.
It is clear that there is no appetite — or infrastructural support — for a third party to have success. This begs the question: Will a third party ever succeed in the United States?
While unique moments can force historical events — look no further than in 1856, when the Whig Party withered and was replaced by the Republicans — the current climate is not the time for such an event. There is no situation in the foreseeable future where a third party could win the presidential ticket — with one key exception.
It’s far fetched but not impossible that the two major parties could have a fissure that yields a new party. Think the Tea Party, or the progressive movement. The Republicans and Democrats each operate under vast ideological tents that occupy large swaths of policy ideas. The possibility of a lightning rod that fractures the far-right and far-left into their own parties is not completely impossible.
But for now, the status quo will be maintained. A true third party, like the Libertarian Party, has not — and likely will not — align closely enough with the American psyche to garner enough votes, or represent a realistic-enough option to pull off skeptics from either party.
The policies of the Liberartarian Party fall into that category. In Cohen’s interview on 990WBOB, he said that his ticket wants to end taxation entirely and “dismantle entire policies and entire systems.” Even if there was room for a third party, it is not a party with those policies.
In the current climate, an ideologue on the fringes has a better shot at winning by running under one of the two parties. Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Ron Paul, a Libertarian, did so to some success in 2008, and 2016 and 2020, respectively. But until an earth-shaking event shifts the psyche of the American people, a third party will never succeed in America.
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