“What would happen if the most talented people in the country, the politicians, the business people, the activists, the engineers, what if all of them could run for the presidential nomination, unaffiliated from any party?”
This question, posed by Peter Ackerman, chairman of Americans Elect, was the focus of a panel discussion Wednesday night entitled “Americans Elect: A Third Candidate in 2012” held at CEMEX Auditorium.
The GSB Government and Politics Club and Americans Elect hosted the event while Larry Diamond ’73 M.A. ’78 Ph.D. ’80, director of the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, moderated the dialogue.
The goal of the group, as described by the Americans Elect website, is “to nominate a presidential ticket that will answer directly to voters – not the political system.”
Ackerman described Americans Elect as not a party, but a platform for candidates not associated with a party. He added that the voting process offered by Americans Elect could, if successful, lead to a different type of governance and more selection among candidates, and that better leaders would come from this non-partisan system.
“The last thing this country needs is a new party,” Ackerman said.
Ackerman said he experienced a lot of difficulty in his efforts to make Americans Elect a reality, which he attributed to the dedication of the Federal Election Committee (FEC) “to preserving a monopoly of power between the two parties.”
“History raises some formidable challenges for the success of this enterprise,” said Professor David Kennedy, Pulitzer-winning historian and director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. “Since the Civil War, only in five elections has a non-traditional candidate won any electoral votes.”
Kennedy added that these candidates have traditionally aimed to be spoilers or to change the political agenda, and that a third candidate would face a particularly difficult election without a presence in lower levels of government.
Tucker Bounds, a political strategist who worked closely with both John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid and Meg Whitman’s California gubernatorial campaign, used his personal experience to articulate the potential pitfalls of the Americans Elect experiment.
Bounds said that presenting a candidate who has not been thoroughly scrutinized by the media is dangerous because of the 24-hour news cycle that prevails in today’s culture. He added that the largest problem for Americans Elect is the intensity of coverage from both traditional and non-traditional news sources because the group has yet to nominate a candidate that can then be vetted by the media.
At least one student who attended the panel discussion saw potential in Americans Elect.
“I am shocked by how inflexible the framework is for allowing third candidates and found Ackerman’s vision incredibly appealing for changing the playing field for how we elect a president,” said Stephen Cobbe ’15.