Daniel Larison on Americans Elect

Hat tip to Daniel Larison at The American Conservative for the Avlon AE article below. Larison has been hard on Americans Elect all along, and this post is no less so.

Americans Elect failed because it stood for almost nothing, and what it did stand for (bipartisanship, mindless “centrism”) are things that the people who vote for third party candidates dislike or don’t value as something desirable in itself. Americans Elect is a financially opaque, unaccountable organization that pretends to be a vehicle of transparency and political accountability. It has no program or agenda, and it cannot identify substantively where the government has gone wrong under the current two-party system. All that it is capable of doing is complaining that members of the two parties are insufficiently chummy and collaborative, and it has presented this message at a time when there is not much confidence in either major party.

Successful third party candidacies have to tap into discontent with something specific about the incumbent, or they have to represent a more radical challenge to both parties. To the extent that it has a political position, it is the opposite of radical, and it has floundered because its backers don’t really disagree with Obama about very much in terms of policy. It is an organization of Tom Friedmans with ballot access.

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12 thoughts on “Daniel Larison on Americans Elect

  1. bruuno

    Somehow the part about 3rd parties doing better when no incumbent is on the ballot completely flew by me. What moronic statement by Avlon. Seems like trying to come up with excuses. I would like to point out though that Larison is dead wrong about John Anderson not doing better than the 1948 paring of Wallace and Thurmond. Anderson got 6.6% while Thurmond and Wallace both got 2.4%.

  2. Thomas L. Knapp

    bruuno@1,

    Who did “better” is debatable.

    Thurmond carried four states and garnered 39 electoral votes (38 from the states he carried — Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina — and one from Tennessee).

    Neither Wallace nor Anderson carried any states. Anderson didn’t even carry any precincts.

  3. Richard Winger

    Tom, what is your source for the statement that John Anderson didn’t carry any precincts? Back then there was no internet and I’m not aware of anyone who put precinct returns for the whole nation from 1980 in any database. Anderson got over 20% in some counties so it seems likely to me he did carry some precincts.

  4. Thomas L. Knapp

    FWIW, I do admit that the claim is facially suspect. That’s one reason it caught my eye.

    When I ran for city council in a city of 75,000 or so in 1997, I polled only 20% — third in a three-way race — but carried 24 of 77 precincts.

    Granted, in a presidential election support is likely to be far more diffuse, but one might expect that he’d have carried some precincts in his hometown and such.

  5. Say Amen

    Americans Elect is a defective concept. They expected to attract a stellar politician who would win millions of disaffected voters. Instead, they attracted only political failures or unknowns who obtained a mere few thousand votes. Why would they expect anything different?

    Stellar politicians today are either Republicans or Democrats. A stellar politician who would attract millions of voters would know that it is politically impossible to win the presidency as a third party candidate. The most a third party candidate could do would be to act as a spoiler, splitting the vote of his own party, Republican or Democrat, so the other party’s candidate would win. No stellar politician would want to be the cause of that “treachery” to his party compatriots.

    If, by some miracle the AE candidate won, how could he/she ever accomplish anything as president? He would have no AE members in Congress to work with. Every member of Congress would be in the opposition party, with his former party members hating him the most. There would be increased gridlock as every member of Congress would want the AE president to fail, to prove that the whole AE idea does not work.

    AE should have started first at winning seats in state offices and in Congress, before aiming at the presidency. No athlete runs his first race at the Olympics. Why did the AE donors think they could start first at the highest political office?

    The only reason Buddy Roemer is seeking the nomination is that he has had a failed political career and could never expect to be elected to anything again.

    He was one of the worst governors in Louisiana history. He could not get along with people, put together a competent staff, or pass legislation. He did not work hard and seemed to love the adoration of his campaign followers but had no ability to govern. Read this excellent history of Louisiana’s governors, pages 259-268:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=Y-0-kmu4vk0C&pg=PA259&lpg=PA259&dq=%22Often+wrong,%22+Roemer&source=bl&ots=GXt38E_jVv&sig=poXJMn9QbCUESjDIP2-foOb3YLY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=n-xjT7CXDOORiQL8n_SiDw&ved=0CGMQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=%22Often%20wrong%2C%20but%20never%20in%20doubt%22%20Roemer&f=false

    Even today, he is Louisiana’s most UNfavorite son. A recent PPP poll in LA rated him the most unpopular presidential candidate, with only 28% rating him favorably to 56% with a negative opinion– a 2:1 unfavorable rating in his home state! http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/03/santorum-leads-by-14-in-louisiana.html#more

    As a Louisiana political commentator quipped, in typical bayou style:
    “Buddy Roemer, who has been out of politics for 19 years, couldn’t win an election as a dogcatcher in Louisiana, much less the Presidency of the United States.”
    http://www.337post.com/yoyo/110309-roemer.html

  6. bruuno

    Half of my family voted for Anderson. I was too young but probably would have myself.

  7. paulie

    A stellar politician who would attract millions of voters would know that it is politically impossible to win the presidency as a third party candidate.

    Why not? Perot was at 40% in the polls at one point in ’92 (early one before campaign disintegration followed by dropping out and then dropping in for the last 5 weeks).
    Ahead of both Bush and Clinton. Has he managed to remain at, above or close to Bush and Clinton the wasted vote miscalculation would not have applied at all. Thus he would have had a chance to win. In the intervening 20 years party loyalty to the big two has dropped significantly and fewer states have straight ticket devices. Further, the disgust with the big two has grown a great deal. It is true that alt parties still lose the presidency every time, but that doesn’t mean it is politically impossible. What it means is that they have little money and no “quality” candidates as you define them.

    The most a third party candidate could do would be to act as a spoiler, splitting the vote of his own party, Republican or Democrat, so the other party’s candidate would win.

    This assumes, completely incorrectly, that such a candidate identifies more with one or the other. Not necessarily so. Many of us no longer see a lesser evil between the two, but see them as two fists or two boots of the same evil entity in function. The number of us who see that is growing all the time. And ignores the fact that such a candidate actually can win, not just swing the race. See above.

    Assuming however that your analysis was correct it would still make sense to run as an alternative. Why is that? Well, if your preferred lesser evil continues to become more and more evil, how do you stop that trend when there is no competition for them but for the greater evil? The greater evil will keep pulling the lesser evil to become more evil because they can take your vote for granted and must only compete for those in the middle between the two evils who need only decide which is the lesser evil. Thus over time you can only get more and more evil, albeit at various rates depending on who wins. Is it better to be tortured to death slowly than to die quickly? The only way to stop the relentless pull towards more and more evil is to vote for a so called spoiler, thus teaching your supposed lesser evil to be even less evil or risk losing. True in the short run you get more evil faster, but in the long run you have a chance of moving towards less, not just lesser, evil. Otherwise the only question is at what rate evil triumphs.

    Furthermore this assumes that the evils are possible to rate. That’s hard to do given that there are no consequences to lying in campaign promises (especially if not voting for the liars is removed as an option). But assuming they always tell the truth, for many of us one party is more evil on some issues and the other is more evil on other issues. On balance there is no difference even though differences do exist.

  8. paulie

    If, by some miracle the AE candidate won, how could he/she ever accomplish anything as president? He would have no AE members in Congress to work with. Every member of Congress would be in the opposition party, with his former party members hating him the most. There would be increased gridlock as every member of Congress would want the AE president to fail, to prove that the whole AE idea does not work.

    The president has numerous powers that do not rely on who is in Congress.

    And the mere fact of such a presidential candidate winning would serve as a shock to members of Congress to take his or her agenda very seriously or risk losing their jobs in 2-6 years. Just because members are elected with a party labels does not mean they have to vote with their party bosses; they are free to vote as they wish and almost certainly many would.

    Congress members want their bills to pass. If their bills are vetoed they need 2/3 in both Houses to pass them. That is a harder threshold to cross and relatively fewer bills could thus become law. Thus there is incentive for members of Congress to work with the president and increase the chances of their bills being signed, even if their party bosses tell them to do otherwise. The president thus has a lot of leverage. If so moved, the president can also use the federal bureaucracy to help or hurt select districts, place or not place various constituents and allies into various nominations, and so on.

    Lastly, it appears that you know a lot about Buddy Roemer. Why do you know or care so much about him in particular? Just curious. That is of course if you are not just spam.

  9. Dan Reale

    I’ll follow up Paulie by addressing the typical BS remarks that we need to run for dogcatcher, state rep, ect before we take on higher office.

    The reason that works has nothing to do with making yourself known. It has EVERYTHING to do with the skills you either naturally have to build a team, speak in public, ect or acquire.

    Some need to run for dogcatcher to do that. Others don’t need to wear the training wheels- they just “got it”.

  10. paulie

    Run for all offices at all levels, both serious and paper campaigns. Voters respond positively to a full slate, or one as full as we can make it.

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