Every few years, somebody makes a notable run for office as a third party or independent candidate. Sometimes they even win, as when Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota.
And people start saying the two-party monopoly on power is finally about to be broken. But it never happens.
Nor are things about to change, anytime soon, especially in Michigan. The candidates of the Green, U.S. Taxpayer and Libertarian Parties have every right to be on the ballot.
They have some interesting ideas. But they aren’t going anywhere. Not only will they not win, recent history suggests that none of them will get even one percent of the vote.
There are a number of reasons for that. I think one of the biggest is our psychology, which really sees life as a duopoly.
Man against man. General Motors against the United Auto Workers Union. The Detroit Tigers against the New York Yankees. Ask any baseball fan if he’d like to swap the World Series for some complex six-team derby where the best overall record wins.
Stuff that. We want a clean contest here. In elections it is the same thing. We don’t want anyone mucking up the big showdown. There are times to be sure, when what look like third party candidates make a splash. H. Ross Perot, for instance.
He got an eye-opening 19 percent of the vote for President in 1992, both in Michigan and nationally, more than any other third party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party in 1912.
But Perot wasn’t part of a third party at all, though he pretended to be head of something called the Reform Party. He was on an ego trip; people were mad and wanted to cast a protest vote.
No Reform Party candidates were elected to Congress; few even ran. Today, the party and Perot have essentially vanished from the scene. Sometimes third parties spring up around a particular issue and do well for awhile. But if they start gaining some success, one of the major parties co-opts their issues.
Shiawassee Drain Commissioner Bob Tisch led a property tax rebellion in Michigan in the early ‘80s, and ran for governor on the issue. But the Republicans adopted his cause, stole his thunder, and he got less than three percent of the vote.
Someday, an individual third party candidate might win in Michigan. But the odds are overwhelming against any group establishing a successful party nationwide or even statewide.
That would take millions, and years of building a network of support systems. Yet never say never.
Once, when an old radical was asked what he thought about a third party, he said “Well, I’d like to see a second one first.”
Right now, it seems to most people that there is a big and meaningful difference between the red and the blue. But if the time ever comes when Americans feel that neither party is listening to their needs, things in Michigan, and the nation, just might change.