Steve Kornacki’s article on Romney being responsible for the failure of Americans Elect is the product of a catchy headline in search of an argument:
The third party formula calls for an opposition party nominee that arouses instant alarm among swing voters, but Romney is pretty close to being a generic Republican candidate.
The John Anderson example would seem to be the only one that fits the model of a challenger arousing “instant alarm among swing voters.” All of the other most successful third party/independent bids were the product of dissatisfaction with the alternatives offered by both major party candidates, and most of them were protest candidacies directed against the incumbent rather than a reaction to the opposition party’s nominee. Wallace and Thurmond didn’t take almost 5% of the vote in 1948 because Dewey aroused “instant alarm” among middle-of-the-road voters. They were direct protests against policies that Truman had pursued during his previous term. George Wallace didn’t win five states in 1968 because Nixon aroused “instant alarm.” Teddy Roosevelt and Ross Perot’s strong showings represented votes of no-confidence in the Republican incumbents.
If a challenger alarms some voters, the normal response is for them to support the incumbent. They tend not to turn to a third option. When the challenger seems acceptable to voters disenchanted with the incumbent, that’s when they entertain the idea of backing a third party. In that scenario, they aren’t worried that voting third party will cause the incumbent to lose. Indeed, they may be voting that way in the hopes that the incumbent loses. One of the many reasons Americans Elect couldn’t get off the ground was that partisans on both sides don’t perceive the other party’s nominee as acceptable. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents don’t want to risk enabling Obama’s re-election, and their counterparts on the other side don’t want to risk enabling Romney’s victory. Romney may have achieved “generic Republican” status, but that is not very reassuring just four years after the end of the Bush era.
No, Romney isn’t responsible for the demise of Americans Elect. Their own uninspired, mindless “centrist” positioning did that all by itself.