There is much to like in Wheelan's Centrist Manifesto. First and foremost, he does not fall into the usual trap befalling most third party fantasists - challenging the Republican/Democrat duopoly by running a candidate for President of the United States as a means to popularize and organize the party. Wheelan notes some of the historical challenges facing third parties:
"Conventional wisdom suggests that the American political system is hostile to all third parties. That is wrong. The system is hostile to third parties emerging from the political fringe—the Green Party, for example. These parties do not win elections because they represent relatively small, deeply ideological segments of the population. In fact, they often have a counterproductive effect. Ralph Nader almost certainly cost Al Gore the election in 2000, the pathetic irony being that the Green Party he was supposedly representing ended up worse off as a result of his campaign. When these fringe parties appear, potential supporters must choose between making noise and making a difference." - Charles Wheelan - The Centrist Manifesto (p. 25) - Kindle EditionTrue enough, as far as he goes, but Wheelan does not quite connect the dots on just how truly hostile the American political system is to third party efforts. In particular, he fails to note the pointless futility of third party presidential campaigns. If third party presidential efforts are not completely irrelevant, it's only because of their potential to be spoilers.
Most recently, the 2012 Americans Elect and 2008 Unity08 efforts (generally acknowledged to be stealth Michael Bloomberg for President vehicles), hoped to trade on the same frustrations over our "broken" political process identified by Wheelan to put a new third party candidate for president on the ballot in all 50 states. They never got any real traction. As further noted by Wheelan, Ralph Nader's failed 2000 Green Party presidential run undoubtedly spoiled Al Gore's efforts and elected George W. Bush. Ross Perot garnered 19% of the popular vote in 1992 and succeeded only in helping elect Bill Clinton. In 1968 George Wallace arguably siphoned enough popular and electoral votes from Democrat Hubert Humphrey to give Richard Nixon the White House.
Third party Presidential campaigns that do not asymmetrically impact enough votes to spoil the election for one of the two major party candidates are simply exercises in irrelevance. Count John Anderson's 1980 campaign and Ron Paul's 1988 Libertarian Party runs among them. Ron Paul is a particularly interesting case as he ran for President both as the Libertarian Party nominee and in primary campaigns to secure the Republican Party nomination. While all his efforts failed, there is little doubt that Paul's impact on American politics was much greater in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns for the Republican nomination than his third party effort heading the Libertarian Party ticket. It is instructive to note that in recent cycles the Libertarian Party presidential candidates have actively embraced the spoiler label. Presumably it's better to be a spoiler than completely irrelevant.
To fully appreciate just how hopeless third party presidential runs are in American politics, consider the 1912 Bull Moose campaign of Teddy Roosevelt. In Teddy Roosevelt we had a highly qualified, wildly popular ex-president who also served as Vice-President, Governor of New York, and Secretary of the Navy. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a true war hero, and Congressional Medal of Honor winner. He championed a platform rooted in the same populist, centrist politics that is the very essence of Charles Wheelan's Centrist Party strategy. And what was the result? He garnered 27% of the popular vote, handily beat the Republican Party candidate in both popular and electoral votes, but nevertheless succeeded only in splitting Republican Party votes and ensuring the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The Bull Moose Party lasted exactly one election cycle. Ultimately, like Ralph Nader and Ross Perot, Teddy Roosevelt's impact was nothing more than just another spoiler who sabotaged the major party candidate closer to their own political position. If Teddy Roosevelt could not get elected President on a third party ticket in the United States, no one can.
While Wheelan does not specifically mention the historical futility of running a third party presidential campaign, he clearly understands that it is a path that leads to failure. His third party strategy neatly sidesteps this political land mine by simply not focusing on the Presidential race.
"The Centrist electoral strategy revolves around the U.S. Senate. The party will focus on winning a handful of U.S. Senate seats in states where moderate candidates traditionally do well. With a mere four or five U.S. Senate seats, the Centrists can deny either traditional party a majority. At that point, the Centrists would be America’s power brokers. Nothing could happen without those swing votes. And when those swing votes represent sensible, moderate voters— rather than the non-compromising extremists of the Left and Right—good things can start happening again. The Centrist Party will organize the vast American middle into a political movement built around sensible governance. It is more feasible than you might think." - The Centrist Manifesto (pp. 12-13) - Kindle Edition.
"Angus King was elected to the Senate from Maine in 2012 as a moderate independent. Consider him Centrist number one. Senator King will caucus with the Democrats , but he has stated that he hopes to be a bipartisan bridge builder. We need to give Angus some more Centrist buddies in the Senate. Once the Centrists control four or five U.S. Senate seats, the party will hold the swing votes necessary for either the Republicans or the Democrats (including the president) to do anything. The Centrists would be the gatekeepers for the entire federal government... The Centrists would be a small, disproportionately powerful bloc demanding what most Americans are asking for. The Centrist Party could use its fulcrum of power in the U.S. Senate to force Republicans and Democrats to come to sensible compromises on important issues." - The Centrist Manifesto (pp. 122-123) - Kindle EditionThis is the core concept of The Centrist Manifesto and what Wheelan calls "The Big Idea". It is, in fact, a big idea because it is a third party strategy that can work. Unlike the Presidency, Independents like Angus King can and do get elected to the Senate in the United States. The modest goal of electing a handful of Senators who will act as a swing vote to moderate and broker the legislative agenda for the federal government is reasonable. Yes, It's still an extraordinarily difficult task. It still entails soliciting massive funding and creating all of the infrastructure of a national political party. It still entails convincing a significant voting block to organize around Centrist Party principles and identify as Centrist Party members. It still entails recruiting serious candidates of national stature to run under the Centrist Party banner. It's still an extreme long shot. But it could work.