Going back to Strom Thurmond's ill fated 1948 Presidential run as the States Rights Democratic Party candidate, third party runs have done little more than play the part of spoiler. Did Ross Perot cost George H.W. Bush the election in 1992? Did Ralph Nader cause Al Gore to lose in 2000? Did Jill Stein contribute to Hillary Clinton's loss in the most recent election? While it is impossible to know what would have happened in the absence of their runs, every Presidential cycle brings a number of third party candidates representing various interests.
From Strom Thurmond and George Wallace to Ralph Nader and Jill Stein, what most of these candidates have in common is that they come from outside the political mainstream. That is, they tend to carve out a position to the right or left of the Republican or Democratic parties. The lone exception was Ross Perot who positioned himself as an outsider but with centrist appeal. It's no coincidence that Perot was the only one to gain nationwide support -- and votes. What ultimately failed Perot was that on the positions, he was not that far from the main political parties.
A lot has changed since 1992, however. The Republicans have lurched further to the right while the Democrats have a real void in their party. It's hard to tell if the Progressive wing will ultimately win out in 2020. In either event, it seems likely that come 2020 both parties will be much further apart from each other and the center than at any time in our modern history. If there is one truism in American politics is that the more centrist candidate usually wins our Presidential election. Before you point to the 2016 results, we'd offer two reminders. First, while Clinton was certainly the more centrist candidate by any measure, she did win the popular vote by 3 million votes. Next, candidate Trump was more central on some issues than he has showed as President Trump.
Third parties have a hard time gaining traction - and often spring from one of the mainstream parties such as Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose party in 1912 after he failed to gain the Republican nomination. John Anderson's independent run in 1980 or Evan McMullin in 2016 are the best examples of a third party run trying to grab the center that they felt their party abandoned. However, in both instances, neither Anderson or McMullin represented a true 3rd party. Rather, they were reactive candidates attempting to offer a solution to what they felt at the time was an undesirable choice between the two mainstream candidates.
What if a 3rd party was organized proactively (rather than reactively based on unpopular candidates) as a real centrist party that attracted Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike? A party that was fiscally conservative but socially liberal that was less about ideology but more about pragmatism. A party that put Country first and cared more about sucess for the American people rather than winning elections. A party that treated all Americans with respect and could broker compromises. A party that didn't try to gerrymander but tried to lead. A party that wanted to do what was right not what would hurt another party or win them an election in the next cycle.
Such a party wouldn't need to win a majority or the Presidency to be effective. If it won enough Congressional seats to ensure no party had a majority, it would force compromise and cooperation. It could break through the toxic environment that permeates Washington. A third party that puts country and its citizens over party may be the only way to truly "drain the swamp."