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Two-party system stays

In July of last year, Thomas Friedman declared the end of the traditional two-party system. “Write it down: Americans Elect,” he wrote in The New York Times. “What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in.”

Last I checked, pharmacies were still in business. And so is the two-party duopoly. But the object of Friedman’s love letter — Americans Elect — is dead. 

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The quixotic hedge fund manager-backed third-party effort spent $35 million getting on the ballot in about half the states and building infrastructure for an online convention. It preached a philosophy that seemed to boil down to: “The Republican Party is being too Republican, while the Democratic Party isn’t being Republican enough.” Then it waited for the theoretically frustrated American center to beat a path to its door, nominating all sorts of theoretically frustrated centrist politicians for its ballot line. 

Unfortunately (for Americans Elect), no one showed up. 

Well, some people showed up. Left-wing former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and conservative former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer declared their candidacies, making a mockery of Americans Elect’s conceit of fielding a centrist ticket. Decidedly non-centrist figures like Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also received votes as “draft” candidates. But it didn’t matter, since none of them could scrape up the 50,000 online votes required for formal consideration under Americans Elect’s own rules — a laughably low bar in this age of social media. 

So this week, the organization admitted defeat and closed shop, talking about the “millions of Americans who … supported Americans Elect.” The fact is, there just aren’t that many people looking to buy what it and every other supposedly “centrist” organization before it — from Unity 2008 to No Labels — was selling. And we don’t need to look at Americans Elect voting totals to come to that conclusion.

In a late April Daily Kos/SEIU poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, we asked respondents whether they thought President Obama and Mitt Romney were too liberal, too conservative or about right. Out of the 1,000 respondents, just 35 percent thought Obama was too liberal and that Romney was too conservative. And of those, only 18 percent self-identified as moderates — or less than 2 percent of the total. 

Similarly, in another mid-May Daily Kos/SEIU poll, we asked whether respondents thought there was a place for moderates in either the Republican or Democratic party. Only 9 percent said there was no place for moderates in either party, and of those, less than 20 percent self-identified as moderates. 

Despite the insistence of certain Beltway and deep-pocketed blowhards, there simply aren’t that many Americans seeking a so-called centrist third party. Our polling would suggest less than 2 percent, to be exact. 

If the public truly wants a centrist politician who embraces the ideas of his opposition, it should be ecstatic with the current president. His healthcare law was pioneered by the conservative Heritage Foundation and first put into action by Romney. He adopted the conservative idea of freezing government employee pay. His administration stepped up deportation of undocumented immigrants. And could we ever forget his deficit-reduction committee?

Those genuinely looking for a centrist presidential candidate already have one.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).


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