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A Silicon Valley-led third party is not going to restore faith in government

Ex-Politico CEO Jim VandeHei has some funny ideas about a third party.

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Could a Mark Zuckerberg-Sheryl Sandberg ticket win the presidency? Is America clamoring for a president who will expand the drone assassination program? What about a government-sponsored app that’s like a Big Brothers/Big Sisters matchmaking service? And what if Michael Bloomberg funds a campaign that supports such initiatives?

According to Jim VandeHei, the recently departed CEO of Politico, the answer to all the above is a very loud “yes.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Monday night, VandeHei spells out what he believes is the winning strategy for a third-party candidate in 2016. Realistically, however, almost none of what he says could come to pass.

VandeHei thinks that “Normal America is right that Establishment America has grown fat, lazy, conventional and deserving of radical disruption,” which is why voters have turned out in droves for candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The problem, as he sees it, is that Trump’s “vulgar approach to politics” and Sanders’s socialism disqualify them from pursuing that disruption. The solution? Find a third-party candidate who can channel the electorate’s anger at Washington. Such a candidate must:

  • Come “from outside the political system” and “[engage] voters daily on social media, with fun and flair.”
  • Exploit the “fear factor” in America and come “from the military” or tap someone “with modern-warfare expertise or experience” as his or her running mate
  • Channel “the internet revolution for the greater good” and create a “National App” that connects young people with mentors, or perhaps veterans with potential employers

Overlooking minor details like the age requirement for the Oval Office, VandeHei floats Facebook CEO Zuckerberg and COO Sandberg as good fits for his hypothetical third-party candidacy. He also thinks Bloomberg, who has already dismissed the idea of any viable third-party run for the presidency, should bankroll such an effort.

While VandeHei correctly diagnoses that most Americans aren’t enthusiastic about either a President Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, virtually none of his prescriptions — least of all staging a third-party candidacy with less than eight months to go before Election Day — make any sense.

While voters were primarily concerned with terrorism after attacks in Europe and San Bernardino, the economy has since retaken its place as the main issue that the electorate cares about; why is military experience (and the fascist-sounding “fear factor” language) so important?

And even though Zuckerberg is a well-liked guy who runs one of America’s most admired companies, the Harvard dropout and billionaire isn’t exactly an “outsider.” And neither is Sandberg, who was the chief of staff at the Treasury Department in the 1990s. And besides, she already has her candidate of choice: Hillary Clinton.

While VandeHei argues that his Innovation Party candidate would bring Silicon Valley “data solutions and efficiencies to our aging governmental systems,” the tech industry has already sent loads of executives to work in Washington on this exact problem; to name a couple, ex-Google X boss Megan Smith is President Obama’s CTO, and Google and Twitter alum Jason Goldman is his chief digital officer. And existing government initiatives like 18F or the TechCongress Fellowship sound suspiciously like VandeHei’s pitch for Silicon Valley “tours of service” in Washington.

It’s easy to harp on VandeHei for the various missteps and holes in his argument, but his plea for a centrist third party is just the latest in a long line of similar cries for help.

Americans Elect, a Bloomberg-backed $35 million project to “smash the two-party system,” failed spectacularly after the 2012 election. And for many years, deficit-obsessed billionaires like Pete Peterson have railed about the need for “solutions” outside of the Democratic and Republican parties.

But the problems that these rich dudes faced then are the same problems that VandeHei’s idea faces now: Most young Americans, the ones that VandeHei thinks can put his theory of change into action, simply don’t agree.

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