Tag Archives: 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.

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.

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.

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.

“Independent Republicans”

Back in the 1970s, the Republican Party of Minnesota changed its name to the Independent Republican Party in order to distance itself from the national party, especially after Watergate.  At the time, the moderates were in charge of the party and wanted to distinguish themselves from conservatives at the national level.  By the mid-90s, the party name went back to the Republican Party, a sign that the state party had shifted rightward in the intervening 20 years.

Blogger D.R. Tucker is suggesting Urban Republicans consider doing the same thing in order to be competative in metro areas:

Back in 2008, Massachusetts education-reform activist James Peyser suggested that in order for Republicans to regain a foothold in New England, Republicans in the region would have to differentiate themselves from the national GOP. He wrote, “Defining a distinctly Massachusetts style of conservatism may not be enough to change the tarnished Republican brand. A name change might also be in order, to symbolize the fresh start and create some distance from the national party. In Minnesota, the local Democratic Party is called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Maybe here in Massachusetts–or across New England–the GOP should start calling itself the Independent Republican Party.”

Republicans who are serious about competing in the major cities and having an opportunity to improve public education and public safety might want to consider doing something similar. The major cities aren’t Democrat-dominated by accident: the political imbalance in these cities stems from the perception by residents that Republicans either don’t know or don’t care about their concerns.

In the urban American worldview, Republicans are cold, amoral, obsessed with cutting vital social services because they believe those services are too expensive and/or unconstitutional. Residents of these cities might be receptive to candidates who propose workable solutions to chronic urban problems, but not if those candidates have a “typical Republican” image.

Tucker goes on to talk about the differences between the Tea Party Republican and the Urban Republican. While those in the Tea Party want to be left along and are anti-government, Urban Republicans want a more efficient government.

This is, of course, part of a larger battle in the nation within the GOP. It’s not as much a moderate/conservative battle as it is, those who want to be a governing party and those that want to be an anti-government party. Right now, it’s the anti-government folk that are winning and while that plays in suburbia, it doesn’t play in the big cities.

More and more I wonder if the urban Republicans should not just distance themselves from the GOP, but create a strong center-right party ala Kadima in Israel. But that’s for another post.

h/t: Hip-Hop Republican

Strong Ties, Civil Rights and Centrists

Over the years that I’ve been blogging (which is now about eight years), I have seen the desire for a strong centrist movement come and go.  Every so often, you see a blog posting or an article by a well-known columnist talking about how a centrist third party or movement is just around the corner. 

 Centrist Republican groups have started and up and disappeared making the pitch that the party needs moderates.

Why is that?  Why hasn’t a strong centrist movement actually got off the ground in America? 

Malcolm Gladwell’s essay on social media and social change, offers some clues.  He starts out by talking about the decision of several African American college students to stage a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960.  What Gladwell shows is that this decision to make a public stand against segregation didn’t just arise out of nowhere: it came from long conversations among the college students as well as the fact that they knew each other. 

So one crucial fact about the four freshmen at the Greensboro lunch counter—David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, and Joseph McNeil—was their relationship with one another. McNeil was a roommate of Blair’s in A. & T.’s Scott Hall dormitory. Richmond roomed with McCain one floor up, and Blair, Richmond, and McCain had all gone to Dudley High School. The four would smuggle beer into the dorm and talk late into the night in Blair and McNeil’s room. They would all have remembered the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott that same year, and the showdown in Little Rock in 1957. It was McNeil who brought up the idea of a sit-in at Woolworth’s. They’d discussed it for nearly a month. Then McNeil came into the dorm room and asked the others if they were ready. There was a pause, and McCain said, in a way that works only with people who talk late into the night with one another, “Are you guys chicken or not?” Ezell Blair worked up the courage the next day to ask for a cup of coffee because he was flanked by his roommate and two good friends from high school.

Of course, one need not be good friends for this kind of social activism, but what Gladwell is getting at is that these four freshmen had strong social ties to each other. It was in his words, “high-risk activism.” Gladwell recounts the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  In East Germany, what looked like spontaneous protests were actually quite organized:

…revolutionary actions that look spontaneous, like the demonstrations in East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, are, at core, strong-tie phenomena. The opposition movement in East Germany consisted of several hundred groups, each with roughly a dozen members. Each group was in limited contact with the others: at the time, only thirteen per cent of East Germans even had a phone. All they knew was that on Monday nights, outside St. Nicholas Church in downtown Leipzig, people gathered to voice their anger at the state. And the primary determinant of who showed up was “critical friends”—the more friends you had who were critical of the regime the more likely you were to join the protest.

So what made a movement was knowing someone in the movement, but it also mattered that the movement itself was rather top-down and orderly.  Gladwell notes the civil rights movement was incredibly military-like in its organization:

The students who joined the sit-ins across the South during the winter of 1960 described the movement as a “fever.” But the civil-rights movement was more like a military campaign than like a contagion. In the late nineteen-fifties, there had been sixteen sit-ins in various cities throughout the South, fifteen of which were formally organized by civil-rights organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and CORE. Possible locations for activism were scouted. Plans were drawn up. Movement activists held training sessions and retreats for would-be protesters. The Greensboro Four were a product of this groundwork: all were members of the N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council. They had close ties with the head of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. They had been briefed on the earlier wave of sit-ins in Durham, and had been part of a series of movement meetings in activist churches. When the sit-in movement spread from Greensboro throughout the South, it did not spread indiscriminately. It spread to those cities which had preëxisting “movement centers”—a core of dedicated and trained activists ready to turn the “fever” into action.

The civil-rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also, crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline.

While one can look at the Civil Rights Movement as one that was dsiciplined, the same can not be said of the so-called Centrist movement. I’ve followed the Centrist and Centrist Republican movements over the years and they are not highly organized in the same way that the Civil Right movement or the opposition in East Germany was. Many a website or organization has been formed, but they have few if any followers.

The reason why is can also be found in Gladwell’s essay. The whole crux of this essay is the fact that social media is not as good in promoting social activism as face to face contact. Gladwell notes that websites like Twitter and Facebook are developed around weak-ties as opposed to the strong ties of social movements. I think this is interesting because much of the centrist movement is organized around the web with groups like the ill-fated Unity ’08, the Modern Whig Party and the new group No Labels as prime examples.  Gladwell notes that these weak ties groups make for a weak social movement:

The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism…

In a new book called “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change,” the business consultant Andy Smith and the Stanford Business School professor Jennifer Aaker tell the story of Sameer Bhatia, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur who came down with acute myelogenous leukemia. It’s a perfect illustration of social media’s strengths. Bhatia needed a bone-marrow transplant, but he could not find a match among his relatives and friends. The odds were best with a donor of his ethnicity, and there were few South Asians in the national bone-marrow database. So Bhatia’s business partner sent out an e-mail explaining Bhatia’s plight to more than four hundred of their acquaintances, who forwarded the e-mail to their personal contacts; Facebook pages and YouTube videos were devoted to the Help Sameer campaign. Eventually, nearly twenty-five thousand new people were registered in the bone-marrow database, and Bhatia found a match.

But how did the campaign get so many people to sign up? By not asking too much of them. That’s the only way you can get someone you don’t really know to do something on your behalf. You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry, because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek swab and—in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow is a good match for someone in need—spend a few hours at the hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.


Bingo. This is why a centrist movement has not as of yet sprung up. It’s easy to ask someone to go to the No Labels website and sign up; nothing is being asked of you except to sign up. It’s another thing to sign up for something and then put your life on the line.

I think what this all comes down to is committment. How truly committed are we to building a real movement? Social media can help maintain the ties people have, but it won’t lead a movement for change. Yes, I can sign up on Facebook to say I support No Labels, but I can also sign up to support bacon as well.

If nothing much is asked of people, we can’t expect that much will be given. 

My guess is that most centrists are not really that serious about wanting change.  If they did, they would be more active in trying to make change happen.  It’s one thing to create a website and get some important people supporting it, it’s another thing to work for moderate candidates and get the average joes motivated.

Bloomberg for President (Again)?

It looks like New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is testing the presidential waters…again:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not only very wealthy, he’s an astute politician, and the campaign schedule that he is keeping suggests that he thinks the Republican Party is going over a cliff with its far-right fringe candidates, and that the Democrats for different reasons may be imploding. Bloomberg senses the time is right for a third party, and while he doesn’t say that outright, his decision to campaign with and support an array of candidates from across the political spectrum underscores his conviction that the center must endure in American politics.

Bloomberg has a good centrist record, but some his laws concerning lifestyle issues put my inner libertarian on edge.  That said, could he be the Ross Perot of 2012?

Want a third political party? 46% of Americans say they do.

Want a third party? Lots of talk making the rounds about forming a third party.

You may even see some news stories saying half of all Americans want a 3rd political party. See page 13 of a recent NBC/WSJ poll that says 46% want a 3rd party (1).

Wanting is different that WANTING. It is no small task to start a third political party. The odds are also stacked against you being successful because you actually have to win elections or receive a huge number of votes before you become a full participant in the political process. Example: Ross Perot was able to participate in the 1992 presidential debates but was disqualified in 1996’s debates due to many factors that place special challenges in the path of third party success (2).

This question about wanting a third party has historically gotten a 45-51% support response. And “strongly” wants has always averaged 30%.

My Prediction

Republicans will run alternative candidates on as many “existing” third party tickets as possible in 2010, mostly against moderate Republicans. End result: Either a split vote leaving moderate Republicans losers or just the threat of a third party run scares off moderate Republicans that don’t have a firm storyline about what they believe and a strong relationship with their constituents. Third party end runs will only work in the South and the eastern seaboard.


1 – http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/MSNBC/Sections/NEWS/091027_NBCPoll.pdf

2 – In Ross Perot’s case, despite having got 18% of the presidential election vote in 1992, America’s Commission on Presidential Debates placed many hurdles in his path in 1996:Â he needed ballot status in all 50 states, his standing in the polls needed to reach a certain percentage, attendance levels at his rallies indicating he was a viable candidate with real supporters, a consideration of the likelihood that he will ever be president, and the opinions of a host of pundits on the value of his presence on the political scene (if he is just a spoiler then inclusion would be free publicity for a non-serious candidate).

Your Assistance and Thoughts, Please – Am Researching Conservative Third Party Probability in 2012

I am researching the probability that American conservatives will abandon the Republican Party and form a third party to run in 2012.
Also interested in whether Democratic Blue Dogs and other currently existing third parties, such as the Constitution Party, will join or collaborate with a new party comprised primarily of an exodus from the Republican Party.
Will publish a series of essays to appear on a variety of political websites beginning November 2nd, 2009.
Below are the progression of my survey topics:
Conservative Future 1/5 – Political Divorce and Third Party in 2012?
Conservative Future 2/5 – Conservative Third Parties in USA
Conservative Future 3/5 – Giants and Personalities Capable of Uniting Conservatopia
Conservative Future 4/5 – Can Conservatives and the Right Wing Play Nice Together?
Conservative Future 5/5 – Conservatives and the GOP – Divorce or Collaboration: 2012?
Am seeking various sources of information with hard information on personalities, issues, point/counterpoint, prior research, polls, conspiracy theories and rumor plus your opinion.
You are welcome to send me your thoughts — and sources — via Facebook or via email: WGolden@IntelligenceCareers.com

I am researching the probability that American conservatives will abandon the Republican Party and form a third party to run in 2012.

Also interested in whether Democratic Blue Dogs and other currently existing third parties, such as the Constitution Party, will join or collaborate with a new party comprised primarily of an exodus from the Republican Party.

Will publish a series of essays to appear on a variety of political websites beginning November 2nd, 2009.

Below are the progression of my survey topics:

  • Conservative Future 1/5 – Political Divorce and Third Party in 2012?
  • Conservative Future 2/5 – Conservative Third Parties in USA
  • Conservative Future 3/5 – Giants and Personalities Capable of Uniting Conservatopia
  • Conservative Future 4/5 – Can Conservatives and the Right Wing Play Nice Together?
  • Conservative Future 5/5 – Conservatives and the GOP – Divorce or Collaboration: 2012?

Am seeking various sources of information with hard information on personalities, issues, point/counterpoint, prior research, polls, conspiracy theories and rumor plus your opinion.

You are welcome to send me your thoughts — and sources — via Facebook or via email: WGolden@IntelligenceCareers.com