Tag Archives: centrist third party

A Plausible Third Party Scenario?

What happens to the political class if the debt ceiling talks fail?  Political analyst Jeff Greenfield thinks it might provide the backdrop for the rise of a third party:

At 2:30 on Monday morning, Aug. 1, 2011, the clerk of the House announced that the motion had failed. Within 24 hours, the government of the United States would be unable to pay its debts.

The political recriminations were as swift and ferocious as the economic fallout, which the hastily contrived debt-ceiling fix three days later did nothing to soften. The 1,400-point drop in the Dow, Moody’s move to downgrade the rating of federal debt, the fever spike in interest rates for mortgages and business loans, the delays in paying federal contractors, the impending layoffs — all had been predicted months before the debt limit was breached.

And the first wave of public reaction was equally predictable: Congress’s job-approval rating fell into the low teens, while President Obama’s dropped into the mid-20s. Nine in 10 Americans surveyed said they thought the country was on the wrong track (“The 10th one is in a coma,” Conan O’Brien quipped).

But then something else began to happen to American politics, something that turned a long-standing political fantasy into a reality…

Until now, when the two-party system had failed at one of the government’s most basic jobs: protecting the full faith and credit of the country’s obligations. The persistent, low-level discontent with Republicans and Democrats suddenly became a tidal wave sweeping across ideological lines, encapsulated by one tweetable, postable, share-able word: “Enough!”

I think Greenfield puts forth a plausible scenario, but I’m still skeptical.  Is the Great American Middle angry enough to demand change?  Is it willing to get involved to making government work?  Would the debt ceiling crisis be the catalyst to launching a great reform in America?

I want to believe that something could happen, something that will move us beyond this deadlock that has made American politics so toxic.  I’m just not so sure Americans give a damn as much as to bring about something new.

I’d like to be proven wrong.

Response to Third Party Repost, Part Two

From Commenter RichC:

Money is often the deciding factor in elections, especially Congressional elections. Third parties can’t attract big money no matter how passionate they are because they can’t win elections. The big money donors pay their way into the system and they want access to elected officials. They want to back winners. This makes fundraising almost impossible for any candidate not in the Republican or Democratic parties.

I find that the most passionate people in either party are the loudest voices and the most active. This is why we see candidates in both parties skew to the far left or far right during the nominating process. Mostly the most die-hard members of the parties participate. Therefore, the candidates must speak to them or fail. People in the middle generally don’t spend as much time on politics and don’t care as much. They are hard to motivate.

The third party candidates we’ve seen in the past have failed because they are seen as simply warmed-over Republicans or Democrats who couldn’t get their own party’s nomination or they represent radical slivers of one of the main parties who have a very narrow focus with a very small percentage of the electorate who backs them. I think Perot was different in that he was more of a populist and he had gobs of his own money to spend. But liberal voters didn’t trust him so he couldn’t gain much traction left-of-center.

The only chance for a third party to become viable is the disintegration of one of the two main parties. This is basically how the GOP gained viability in the 19th Century. This theoretically could happen if a radical faction gains control of a party and nominates increasingly radical candidates. The independents would summarily reject either party for doing this thereby opening the door to a third party. But this third party would have to take over many of the positions of the disintegrated party. So, would we really have a third party? I think so because the radical fringe would be culled out of the disintegrated party, or more precisely the radical fringe would remain with their original party and the more people with more centrist view would join the new party. One problem with this would be that the power brokers of the old party who are centrists might not want to give up some of or all of their power to join a new party thereby leaving two weak parties on one side of the spectrum allowing for the possibility of the one strong party on the opposite side to consolidate power. This would probably be the worst of all scenarios. I think given the current state of the GOP and the tea party influence, the GOP is most likely to succumb to this type of thing although I think that possibility is small.

The people in the middle simply don’t care enough for any of this to happen.

Repost: Hey, Let’s Start a Third Party!

Last week, I stumbled upon an article by centrist pundit John Avalon on one of this favorite subjects: starting a centrist third party. Stories like this used to excite me, but these days, not so much. Below is a repost from September 2010 that explains why my love for a third party has cooled. I’m curious to hear from the centrists out there about this. Can a third party emerge? How?

A recent Gallup Poll has stated that Americans increasingly want a third party saying that both the GOP and Democrats have done a poor job. The poll notes that the biggest support for a third party comes from Independents with 74 percent wanting an third option. Whenever there is talk of a third party option it always follows with that this new party will be a centrist one that will appeal to those in the middle.

There was a time that such polls filled me with hope. Now I respond with a sort of “meh.”

Why? Because in some ways, these polls are meaningless. Yes, a lot of people want third parties. I want a third party. But a lot of people also want sunny days and to lose 30 pounds. Wanting a third party is not the same as having a third party movement.

As Dick Polman notes that the desire for a third party has had appeal in good times and in bad times. It has become a constant of wanting some kind of third force is beyond the stale choices of the elephant and the donkey. But despite that desire, a viable third party has never emerged? Why? Well, lack of ideas for one:

…despite all these spikes of majority interest, then and now, no viable third party has ever emerged; and the list of failed third-party leaders, and those who froze at the starting gate, is ever-lengthening: Perot, Powell, John Anderson, Ralph Nader, Lowell Weicker, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Pat Buchanan, Michael Bloomberg. (NYC mayor Bloomberg froze in ’07, and now his name apparently is being floated again, mostly by Bloomberg.)

The main reason for the persistence of the GOP-Democratic duopoly – aside from the fact that a viable third party faces serious financial and ballot access obstacles – is that there is no broad agreement on what a viable third party should stand for. Powell talked about a party that would represent “the sensible center,” but the problem is that everyone has a different concept of what is sensibly centrist.

Gallup reports that the greatest support for a third party comes from the tea-partiers; 62 percent say yes to the concept. They would undoubtedly argue that it’s sensibly centrist to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich and to eradicate a variety of federal safety-net programs. Gallup also reports, however, that 61 percent of liberals favor the third-party idea – but they would surely argue that it’s sensibly centrist to march out of Afghanistan and to offer Americans the option of government health insurance.

And there you have it. We can’t really have a centrist third party if we don’t know what the center is all about. We can have a center-left party. We can have center-right party. We can even have a centrist party, but it means spelling out what centrist means. As long as it remains airy-fairy then all the talk about a third party is in vain.

A third party has to be built; it just doesn’t appear. I stumbled upon an old blog post from an Indian magazine that talks about the need for true center-right party in India. What this writer said could apply to the situation here in America:

Swatantra, India’s first and only genuinely right of center party openly advocated free markets, individual freedom and private property rights long before these terms became fashionable. In fact, at a time in which socialism was on march and was increasingly seen as the natural system of governance, it stood upto it and offered an alternative system of governance.

But Swatantra leaders were not merely politicians. Its president, C.R.Rajagopalachari popularly known as Rajaji was an intellectual tour de force: brilliant writer and a passionate speaker. Rajaji’s open defiance of the existing consensus was in many ways repudiation of his own life’s work–better part of which was spent in Congress. Apart from Rajaji, Swatantra was blessed with towering intellects such as K.M Munshi, Minno Masani and H.M Patel many of whom were not only intellectual leaders of the country but also institutional builders.

If a real third party is going to emerge, then you need people spanning from intellectuals to media types, to politicians, to the common joe. Real political movements are built and they need “institution builders” to do that.

The other observation is that third parties exist already in America. If Americans are upset at the Big Two, then they might want to consider supporting other parties.

So, as much as I would love to see a real thrid or fourth or fifth party, I don’t see it happening until America stops wishing for more parties and starts acting on it.

Frum, McKinnon Talk Third Parties and “Centrist Manifesto”

During a podcast interview with David Frum, former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon hinted at the rise of a third party in the coming months and goes over his “Centrist Manifesto.”  This is what McKinnon had to say regarding a third party:

I’m reluctant to talk about [how a third party run would emerge] because I’m involved with some things that are happening that just haven’t been announced… it’s way more than gum-chewing. The appetite is there. Part of the problem is that there are some legal problems in the way. But there are some people working very hard to make sure that there won’t be those legal hurdles in the way… so that anyone who wants to run can run in 2012.

You can read the highlights of the podcast by going here.

Minnesota’s Largest Paper Endorses Independent Tom Horner for Governor

Here in the North Star State, people on the center right tend to joke about the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Minnesota’s largest newspaper.  We call it the “Red Star” because it tends to be a liberal paper and tends to endorse liberal candidates.

Well today, the “Red Star” has shocked everyone not just by not endorsing a Democrat for governor, but by endorsing a third-party candidate and a former Republican no-less.

Today, the Star Tribune endorsed businessman and former GOP strategist Tom Horner for Governor of Minnesota.  He is running on the centrist Independence Party ticket.  The editorial is full of strong affirming words for the 60-year-old including the strongest words one can give a candidate: “We urge his election.”

The two major party candidates for Governor, Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton, are at the extremes in their parties.  Emmer has run on a “no new taxes” agenda that would slash state services and Dayton has run on a “tax the rich” agenda that will come nowhere near the money needed to save the state from financial ruin.

The Star Tribune has not been pleased with either candidate, but has been pleased with Horner, who didn’t simply run on the usual centrist “I’m-not-like-the-other-candidates” mantra, but provided clear solutions to the state’s problems.

Here is a sample of what the Star Tribune wrote:

Affable but serious-minded, Horner has run a professional, positive campaign that reveals solid preparation for the office he seeks. He’s attracted an impressive list of bipartisan endorsements from thoughtful Minnesotans, buttressing his claim to be a uniter and a problem-solver.

Horner’s plan for erasing the big budget deficit that’s been forecast for 2012-13 is sound — and while not as complete as it will need to be next January, it compares favorably with the ideas advanced by both Dayton and Emmer.

Horner recognizes that it’s past time to ease the “no new taxes” inflexibility that has paralyzed efforts to restore fiscal stability to government since it was lost in the big tax cuts of 1999-2001. Emmer, by comparison, seems willing to tear big holes in the safety net for the poor, disinvest in higher education and widen regional disparities around the state in order to avoid raising any state tax.

But Horner also sees that there are less destructive ways to stabilize state finances than to give Minnesota one of the nation’s highest top-bracket personal income tax rates, as Dayton aims to do.

Horner’s blend of an expanded sales tax base, higher cigarette taxes and a cap on income tax deductions that advantage upper-income earners would not punish the middle class. He’s proposing $350 million in measures to lighten the burden of the sales tax increase on Minnesotans of modest means. But his plan wouldn’t try to exempt the middle class, either, as Dayton’s claims to do.

In other words, Horner intends to invoke something fundamental to Minnesota’s 152-year success story, something that has been eroding in recent years — a sense that Minnesotans are all in this together. He stands for neither “soak the rich” nor “sink the poor” (which is what “no new taxes” increasingly means). He wants wide participation, both in the costs of solving the budget problem and in the benefits from investing strategically in the public goods — education, research, infrastructure, health care reform — that will form a foundation for widely shared prosperity in years to come.

I’ve personally supported Horner because he represents a dying tradition among Minnesota Republicans: a desire for good, efficient and cost -effective government.  Tom Emmer represents a party that seems interested in catchy slogans, but not in trying to make sure that government is doing what it can to lift people up at a reasonable cost.  Mark Dayton wants only the rich to foot the bill instead of seeing that all Minnesotans must take part in making this state great.

I would have loved if Horner stayed in the GOP and challenged Emmer, but maybe this was the wiser route.  Americans are wanting something beyond the partisan rhetoric and hackery.  They want a viable third party option and Horner gives them that.

So, huzzah for Tom Horner’s endorsement, not only from the Star Tribune, but from the Duluth News Tribune and the Fargo Forum.

Go Horner!

On Lazy Journalism

In an article about centrism,  David Brewster has this to say about journalists in the current political climate:

A final word about journalism in all this. Melodrama sells papers, with its vivid narrative, stock characters, simplistic polarization, and lively fireworks. A “constructive journalism,” in my view, looks instead at the hidden drama by which people of good will, the majority of those in government, pursue solutions, normally out of the spotlight. Finding that story is harder work. It helps to restore normal citizens’ confidence in government. It’s closer to the truth of public life. Just how we get back to this kind of journalism in a climate of hyperpartisanship and IEDs may be even more of a challenge, but let’s some of us try.

I would include bloggers in this as well. Media folk are not so willing to go beyond the surface of a story to dig deep; it’s far easier to talk about Christine O’Donnell being a witch or not.

We need to have a more substantial politics. but we also need a media that is less sensationalist and less willing to follow those who say the most outlandish things to garner attention.

Nate Silver Defends Tom Friedman

Nate Silver thinks that there is some truth to Tom Friedman’s wish for a third party Presidential candidate:

Thomas Friedman’s Sunday column, in which he predicted the emergence of a “serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her,” is attracting a lot of comment — and criticism — in different parts of the blogosphere.

Brendan Nyhan notes, for instance, that Mr. Friedman had predicted something similar would occur in 2008. And other writers have offered similar predictions in past election cycles.

In his column, Mr. Friedman seems to suggest that a successful third-party candidate might resemble the sort of technocratic moderate along the lines of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But it’s important to keep in mind that there are other types of third-party candidates who could emerge (say an economic populist with a strong anti-immigration message).

Nevertheless, I suspect these analysts are being too dismissive of the possibility of a “serious” third-party run of some kind in 2012, and that Mr. Friedman’s prediction has a reasonable possibility of coming true.

Silver then cites 16 factors in what could lead to an acutal third party candidacy.  Two of them stick out: one is if Obama’s poll numbers continue to lag in the winter of 2012, and secondly is if someone on the hard right,  like a Sarah Palin wins the early GOP primaries.

I think a lot of the pundits blowing off a third party challenge think that these are normal times.  But the we haven’t faced an economy like this in generations and we are also facing rapid social and technological change that might, and I say again, might render the old ways of politics moot.

One thing that Silver didn’t mention: everyone is focusing on the top of the ticket, but I’m more interested in some of the races down ticket.  As I said in an earlier post, I think we are already seeing a de facto third party happening on the right with more center right candidates who were Republicans in the past going independent or joining minor parties.  Where I see a third party rising is not as much at the presidential level, but at the congressional and state level where moderate Republicans as well as some Democrats might leave their party and form a new one at least in all but name. 

I think the two people we need to watch right now are Maine’s two Republican Senators- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.  These two moderates  are under considerable pressure from their increasingly right-wing state GOP party.  If one or both decide to leave the party and run and/or sit as independents, then it’s game on for a centrist third party.

The De Facto Third Party

Tom Friedman wrote another column Sunday talking about the rise of a centrist third party.  Not surprisingly, a number of pundits have piled on Friedman.

In some case, I can understand why pundits grow tired of other pundits saying that a major third party is just around the corner again and again and again.  History has taught us that third parties are hard to grow in American soil, the center is not as unified as it might appear and so on and so on.

But I think it is silly to dismiss these desires for something beyond the two major options that we have.  The hopes for something beyond the two major parties is not simply the crazed writings of a New York Times columnist.  I’ve been around enough to know people who are disatisfied with both parties and longing for something better. Maybe if these columnists and pundits got out of their worlds and listened to some folks they would know this.

That said, we might be seeing the silent rise of a third party happening before our eyes.  It is not a formal party and it doesn’t have a name.  But as the Huffington Post’s Charles D. Ellison notes, moderates with in the GOP are increasingly leaving the party and striking out on their own, creating a de facto third party. Ellison starts by talking about Mike Castle’s decision not to launch a write in bid for Senate and starts chatting about Lisa Murkowski’s decision to go forward with a write-in campaign for Senate.  He notices a pattern:

…the underlying point, in comparing Murkowski and Castle, is that we may be seeing a movement of moderate Republicans becoming Independents, forced out of necessity to create an unofficial “third party” movement.

We’re already seeing real signs of that in current Gov. Charlie Crist’s (I) non-write-in bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat as a former GOP insider who one day grew tired of uncertain back-and-forth with stalwart conservative peers. Clearly, irate and impatient red state activists on the right liked what they saw in Marco Rubio. Crist would have watched in futility as his chances for Senate retirement would have disintegrated in the cauldron of primary day tempestuousness.

There is something attractive about that, particularly considering recent Gallup surveys that show 58% of Americans are open to the proposition of a third party. Still, this is not the third party expected; folks probably think of brand new political activists hitting the scene to pitch larger themes of reform and the extinction of the “career politician.” In these instances, you have career politicians desperate to save their gigs. But, it’s still refreshing that high profile candidates are leaning in that direction in attempts that could encourage the larger body politic to think outside of the electoral box and seriously consider third party bids.

If you notice, a number of former Republicans are now mounting independent bids or are endorosing independent candidates.  Former liberal GOP Senator Linc Chafee is running for governor of Rhode Island and an independent.  In Minnesota, long-time GOP operative Tom Horner is running under the Independence Party banner with the backing of serveral Republican donors. Former GOP officials in Maine and Nevada endorse independents for various offices.

None of this is coordinated, but it might be signaling that moderates within the GOP are tired of being picked on and are trying to strike out on their own.  Will any of this morph into an organized third party?  Who knows.  I agree with Ellison that it makes more sense to start a third party with sitting officials than trying to start from scratch. 

But I think this is one of the under-reported stories of 2010.