Could a third party break through in 2016?

(CNN)The news that Donald Trump is changing up his campaign team suggests the Republican nominee wants to keep pressing his reality-show style presidential run, complete with angry populist tone and wildly contradictory issue positions.

The move is great news for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which has been buoyed in the polls by Trump’s unwillingness to pivot and penchant for stirring up controversies, especially since the Democratic National Convention. But could there be other — perhaps surprising — beneficiaries?


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Sadly for the Libertarian Party — and the Green Party, too — the results are more likely to look like business as usual. After all, one reason third party and independent candidates so often fail in their presidential bids is that they can’t get enough elected officials to believe that they aren’t wasting political opportunity by affiliating with them. Similarly, they can’t get citizens to believe that they aren’t wasting their votes by backing one of the non-main parties.
Of course, it could be different this time — Trump and Clinton have such historically low favorability ratings that voters really could start casting about for other options as the campaigns enter the homestretch. Also, media outlets could decide that the unchanging (and largely negative) nature of the two-party presidential contest is making for boring news programming, which could encourage more coverage of third-party candidates in an effort to win back the viewers increasingly turned off by the train wreck that is this election.
In practice that could mean networks like CNN expanding their coverage of the third parties outside of the slower news cycle days of the summer — greater media interest in September and October could help the Green and Libertarian parties be more relevant in the presidential vote.
At the end of the day, the most-likely effect of the candidacies of Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein is that they will keep the winner from obtaining a majority of the national popular, in turn weakening the winner’s claim of a governing mandate. But looking farther ahead, Johnson could garner enough support to make Trump a truly historical loser.

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