Every so often, a politican or hack consultant tries to float the idea that "this time," a viable third-party could emerge in the American electoral system. More often than not, such rhetoric is just a means to an end: money from people dumb enough to believe him.
Now that LA Times writer Ron Brownstein, in cooperation with the inefficient and overrated Joe Trippi, is peddling this swill, Marshall Wittmann at the Bull Moose blog (who still hasn't dropped the annoying old media habit of referring to himself in the third person) is eating it up.
I'm not one to rule out basically anything--but barring a tremendous, long-term electoral collapse among either party, there is almost zero chance of a smaller party becoming a national force, particularly because the existing ones are too stupid to concentrate on just one or two states. (Tthe Free State Project doesn't count since they picked the state of New Hampshire, future home of one-third of Massachusetts, thereby assuring their failure to take over the state and impose libertarian governance.)
Many of my fellow political independents often woe the fact that the American electoral systems "create an opening in the center of the electorate" (as Trippi puts it) which no one seems to want to fill. This is true to an extent. Looked at from an up-close perspective, it seems like extremists dominate our politics. But compared to other countries' systems, the American way of doing things is remarkably stable and centrist.
In over 200 years of existence, the U.S. hasn't had a single major coup attempt or a party trying to maintain control of the executive branch after losing an election. Compared to their foreign counterparts, the Republican and Democratic parties are resoundingly centrist. Extreme socialist or nazi movements have always had trouble getting traction in our duopolistic system. That is a remarkable record and one we should be proud of rather than frustrated at.
Even in the event that a hole in the center does open up, both parties are too smart to let it remain empty for long. Their voters are, too. The 2004 Democratic primary was a perfect example of this. Initially, it seemed as though Howard Dean was poised to get the nomination until people realized that he was too far to the left to defeat George W. Bush. They were right. While it's true that most liberals find the current Iraq war an outrage while most conservatives deem it essential, most Americans aren't particularly for or against it. An anti-war candidate would have been creamed at the polls since Americans will support any war up to a certain point.
For more smackdowns of the third-party fantasy argument, see this post from Ezra Klein on the problem of ballot access and this one from Brendan Nyhan on how a plurality, single-member system is conducive to two party governance.