Opinion: Don’t fall for any third-party baloney. It’s the last thing we need in 2024

File photo/T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times / Sen. Joe Manchin, D-w.Va., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 7, 2023. Manchin is a top name being considered in a 2024 “unity ticket” being assembled by the bipartisan political group No Labels, a move that columnist Nicholas Goldberg said is a nonstarter.

I received an email recently from a frustrated reader complaining that the 2024 presidential election was shaping up to be an unsatisfying do-over featuring two familiar and unappealing candidates.

It's a complaint I've heard before: President Biden and Donald Trump are too old. Trump's too crazy and irresponsible; Biden's too mild and ineffectual. Neither will compromise; neither is competent. They encourage government dysfunction and polarization. Why, oh why, don't we have better choices?

Then, suddenly, just a few days later, there was another message in my inbox offering a seeming solution: No Labels, the centrist political organization that proselytizes on behalf of bipartisanship and ending gridlock, says it, too, is worried about the candidates and has come up with an "insurance" plan that may provide relief.

The group is working to secure a place on the ballots of all 50 states for the 2024 general election, just in case the race offers only a Trump-Biden rematch or some other dismal, unsatisfying pairing. If that happens, the group would run a third-party alternative ticket -- one Democrat and one Republican who would promise to work together to rescue the U.S. from paralysis and extremism.

No Labels has so far secured ballot spots in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska and is getting to work on Florida, North Carolina and Nevada.

Founded by longtime Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson and former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, among others, No Labels promises choice! Compromise! An end to toxic bitterness!

Sounds great, right? A swift kick in the pants to politics as usual.

But don't be fooled.

A third-party candidacy is a shiny object, a bright bauble that is superficially appealing. But it's actually the last thing we need.

And by "we" I mean the sensible, still sane portion of the electorate (Democrats and Republicans alike) that wants to ensure above all that Donald Trump or some other truly extremist anti-democracy candidate doesn't become president again.

Some Democrats who had ties to No Labels have realized that the alternative-ticket plan is a bad idea, and have said so publicly in the last few days.

"No Labels is wasting time, energy and money on a bizarre effort that confuses and divides voters, and has one obvious outcome -- re-electing Donald Trump as president," said Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., last week.

There's nothing wrong with third parties in theory. The two major parties don't have a God-given right to a clear field. If another H. Ross Perot or Eldridge Cleaver or John Anderson or Henry A. Wallace or Strom Thurmond or George Wallace or Ralph Nader thinks they have something to offer, they're within their constitutional rights to try, as all those guys did.

And if Americans are unhappy with the major party candidates, they have the right to cast protest votes.

But let's be clear: That's what this would be -- a protest vote. Third-party candidates don't win. They haven't in the past and they won't in 2024.

What they can do is reshape elections if they get enough votes. And in this case there's a good chance they'd reshape it in Trump's favor (or Ron DeSantis' or whoever becomes the Republican candidate).

Voting for a third-party candidate is an OK strategy if you really don't see much difference between the major-party candidates and want to register a protest.

But voters who feel that way about a Trump-Biden race need to face reality. The notion that Biden and Trump are comparable "extremists," one from the left and one from the right, is an outrageous and dangerous untruth.

There can be only one priority in 2024 if Trump is a candidate: making sure the country's fate is not put back into the hands of a man already proved to be reckless, undemocratic, dishonest, self-dealing and supportive of violence.

The Los Angeles Times