Despite all the logical and historical arguments against third party campaigns, insurgent candidates say they’re compelled to run to give the people a "real choice" when major parties become indistinguishable.
Ignoring the increasingly profound ideological gulf between Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy, economics and social issues, minor party activists dismiss these old political organizations as "Tweedledum and Tweedle-dumber," or "Republicrats and Demicans" – power hungry hacks who serve the same corporate masters and only pretend to disagree. Former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace ran his entire 1968 campaign (as standard-bearer for the hastily assembled "American Independent Party") based on the slogan that "there’s not a dime’s worth of difference" between his two opponents, Nixon and Humphrey, claiming they both kowtowed to the same "pointy-headed intellectuals."
In retrospect, any comparison of the careers, character and ideology of Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey reveals that even in that pre-inflation era, the value of their differences amounted to more than ten cents. But aside from the substance of Wallace’s complaint, the impact of his relatively successful backlash-to-Civil Rights campaign (he won 13.5% of the vote and carried five Southern states) shows the futile nature of the third party strategy. The next time out the Democrats nominated ultra-liberal George McGovern, now underlining their big differences with Nixon by moving further away from, not closer to, Wallace’s right wing, blue collar positions. By that time the Governor himself had rejoined his old party and enjoyed considerable success in Democratic primaries in ‘72, before a bullet from a would-be assassin cut short his campaign. In any event, Wallace remained a Democrat (and returned to the governorship), even swallowing his segregationist principles to endorse Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Other "give ‘em a choice" campaigns produced similarly negligible long-term results. "Outsider" Ralph Nader claimed in 2000 that he could see scant difference between insiders Bush and Gore, and so he drew a crucial 2.7% of the electorate. Four years later, Republican Bush and Democrat Kerry utterly ignored Nader’s issues while each drawing millions more votes than their parties had won four years before, but Nader himself got less than one-sixth the ballots he claimed in 2000.
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