The conversation was disappointingly superficial. There was no discussion of the sky-high hurdles that exist to ballot access for third parties and independents; no meaningful probing of the impacts that third parties have had on the history of the United States; nor was there even a single mention of the super-historic third-way triumph this year in France when Emmanuel Macron walloped the chauvinist Marine Le Pen in the presidential election and then soon after his brand-new political party, En Marche!, swept parliamentary elections.
The end result of the FiveThirtyEight talk was the mocking, puerile conclusion that only a celebrity candidate like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could mount a significant challenge to the major parties in 2020.
This doesn't mean that FiveThirtyEight round table failed to illuminate. One of Silver's interlocutors, senior writer Perry Bacon Jr., opined that
. . . Kasich/Hickenlooper is the kind of unity ticket that people in the Beltway and the media (like me) tend to think is appealing to voters: moderate in tone, more economically conservative and socially liberal. I think there isn’t any evidence that voters want this kind of ticket and there is a lot of evidence (the rise of Sanders and Trump) that voters don’t want this kind of candidate. I do think a third-party candidate can do well. I really do. But I suspect it’s more of an outsider/celebrity than a bunch of old pols who are somehow trying to split the difference between the two existing parties.What Bacon doesn't acknowledge is that the entire U.S. political system is based on not giving the voters what they want. The FiveThirtyEight writers dismiss a Bloomberg candidacy because he is a cosmopolitan billionaire (who cares about gun control and climate change) without mentioning that he was ready to pull the trigger in 2016 if Hillary's Southern firewall was breached by Bernie on Super Tuesday. It wasn't. So Bloomberg didn't mount a third-party challenge.
The important takeaway is that Mike Bloomberg was ready to spend profligately from his personal fortune and launch a kamikaze third-party attack on the two-party system if a non-neoliberal took control of the Democrats. Bloomberg didn't throw down the gauntlet when Trump remarkably captured Bloomberg's Republican Party.
So the entire frame of the FiveThirtyEight chat -- that a third party will arise in 2020 because of Trump on the basis that 1) Trump himself is blocked from the GOP nomination and decides to run under an independent "MAGA" banner, or 2) that a "moderate" Republican like Kasich will stray from the GOP rez in search of suburban soccer moms -- is ass backwards.
The correct lens for a third-party challenge in 2020 is if Bernie Sanders, who will be 79 in three years, looks like he is going to win the Democratic nomination. Then we will see a billionaire-sponsored third-party candidacy emerge. It could be a corporate chief like Howard Schultz or a celebrity wax dummy like The Rock.
France proves that a zombie neoliberalism can still dominate the polls, and with tantalizing results for the plutocrats. The correct variables are required: a baleful xenophobe on the right; a social-democratic uprising on the left; a shocked, terrorized electorate.
Make no mistake. A U.S. Macron is a distinct possibility in 2020 (maybe even a female iteration). But s/he wouldn't win. S/he would merely guarantee that a social democrat wouldn't win.
Which means four more years of MAGA.