Over on Facebook, a friend of mine asked:
So... Anyone else hoping that a strong independent that can take the best ideas of the right and the best ideas of the left and can actually FIX this country will emerge for the election?
Here's how I see it (and I'm trying to be brief, so this is going to sound reductive and dismissive, but bear with me):
1. The 3rd Party candidates aren't viable. They're getting more recognition as people (in general) get fed up with the limits of a two-party system, but most people only ever hear about them in election years. That means, in essence, that there's nobody on their teams. It's kind of a Catch 22: nobody is going to vote for them because they can't win, but the reason they can't win is that nobody is going to vote for them. We could hit a tipping point where that changes, but we aren't there yet and it doesn't look like we will be any time soon.
(The best way to get there, I think, would be to have people running for local elections under those third parties, and working their way up until those parties really had a base and a following. That... doesn't help us now.)
2. Yes, theoretically, a "strong independent" could announce a platform and run, with or without an actual party; theoretically, such a candidate could even win if they got enough votes. However, without the backing of a party, they essentially never have the resources or the platform to make that even remotely possible; the closest I can recall is Ross Perot, and his campaign took 18.9% of the popular vote and nothing whatsoever of the electoral vote. It might or might not be worth noting that Trump didn't even try this approach.
3. In practical terms, that means that we get to choose between Trump and Clinton. Nobody else is in position to swoop in and save the day. And Trump is... well... Trump. If you're a liberal, he's temperamentally unfit to be in charge of a little league game, let alone the entire country; if you're a conservative, well... I'm not actually going to presume to speak for you, but from where I'm sitting he looks like a crass betrayal of every value the Republican Party has ever claimed to stand for.
There's a meme going around that says that having to choose between Clinton and Trump is like having to choose between Lex Luthor and The Joker. That's actually not a bad analogy, particularly if you think that Hillary is scheming, dishonest, and crooked -- basically, Lex Luthor in a pantsuit. But here's the thing: Lex Luthor might destroy the world, but if he (she) does, it'll be after careful thought, weighing the available options, and carefully calculating the risks and rewards. The Joker, on the other hand, might strike the match just to see how the world looks when everything's on fire -- or because he didn't realize he was standing in the middle of a refinery.