Put another way: Third parties have their uses, but they are neither the best path to radical change nor the best path to moderate change. And they're especially ill-suited for a coalition of radicals and moderates.
I do not write entirely as an outsider. I was briefly a member of the Libertarian Party in college, following a friendly argument with a party activist about whether the LP was good for anything. "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it," he told me, and in just a few minutes he had persuaded me to let the party list me as a candidate for Ann Arbor city council. I got to give a couple of funny speeches and I made a silly ad for public access TV, a Mister Rogers parody whose highlight came when my chair unexpectedly fell over backwards. (I refused to recut it without the pratfall, on the grounds that if I couldn't get votes I could at least get some laughs.) When The Ann Arbor News ran a story about me, its lead quote had me declaring "I'm too young for this job."
Actually, the article was kind of flattering. Here's an excerpt:
The young man, wearing a T-shirt whose graphic designs were half obscured by an unbuttoned long sleeve shirt, had a serious message to deliver to 50 business-suited men and women, but decided to have fun while doing it.
His audience was a candidates' forum last Thursday at Sheraton University Inn -- jointly sponsored by the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors, Ann Arbor Apartment Association and Washtenaw County Homebuilders Association -- and they laughed and applauded when he announced he was "pandering" to them.
They applauded his poise behind the microphone and his agile tongue when -- taking liberty with Sen. Barry Goldwater's famous dictum on extremism -- he said that "insanity in defense of liberty is no vice."
I'm pretty sure the insanity line made more sense in context.
I beat the Republican in my home precinct, mostly because the precinct consisted almost exclusively of my dorm. And while my total tally -- I got 2.5% -- wasn't particularly impressive, it might have made the difference in the race. The margin of victory, after all, was less than 10 votes.
But that's wishful thinking. I ran into the Democratic candidate after the election, and I asked him if there was any chance his party would push itself in a more libertarian direction to pick up those vital swing voters. He laughed and said that they'd talked about my campaign after the results were announced; their conclusion was that "Jesse Walker's supporters consisted mostly of people who do not ordinarily vote." I conceded that this was my take as well.
In retrospect, the fact that the Libertarian Party was willing to nominate an inexperienced 18-year-old who'd lived in town for only a few months may be the best argument yet against it. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best argument for it. But I'm biased.