Many punditry and other media daggers are already slashing away not
only at Howard Schultz, the independent billionaire centrist likely to
run for president, and at Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City
mayor who is also a centrist and a billionaire (but running as a Democrat)
--- their rhetorical daggers are aimed at any centrist, liberal leaning or
conservative leaning candidate, as an obstacle to the self-styled crusades
either to defeat Donald Trump’s re-election next year or to keep him in
The decibels are louder on the left in this matter for the simple reason
that the net loss of the large and critical number of centrist, moderate
and independent voters would likely hurt a Democratic nominee who
embraces the party’s currently fashionable radical agenda more than it
would hurt the president at the ballot box in November, 2020.
The anti-centrist campaign makes the usual arguments, including the
assertion that the current national political environment is so polarized
to the left and right; that centrists, moderates and independents don’t
know what they want because they have no ideology; and of course that
centrist are too few to elect one of their own. Each of these assertions
contains some validity, that is, a certain intense left-right polarity does
exist today, centrists are not usually ideologues, and this group of voters,
while large, probably cannot prevail with a candidate of their own on a
third party ballot in a general presidential election.
But, as with so much media bias these days, the anti-centrist arguments
distort reality and ignore critical facts.
Centrists, independents or moderates (some of these voters fall into two
or more of these categories) often avoid ideology because it frequently
results in stalemate of public policy. Ideological orthodoxy often
precludes political compromise. The way the national U.S. political
system works, compromise is a vital component of transforming policy
ideas into working solutions.
As for the argument that centrists, independents and moderates are too
few to elect one of their own, its presumption depends on the fact that
no independent has ever won a presidential election (Teddy Roosevelt
came the closest, finishing second in 1912). But Ross Perot did briefly
lead both his major party opponents in the polls in 1992 (and got almost
20% of the popular vote. determining the winner). Until 1960, no
Catholic had ever been elected president; until 2008, no Afro-American
had won; and until 2016, no woman had been nominated by a major
party. And speaking of breaking precedents, until 2016, no one like
Donald Trump had ever won the presidency.
The sudden emergence of centrist political figures in this cycle, however,
is more than just about a centrist candidate winning. It is perhaps more
about the fact that one major party has seemingly been moving too far
off center. To be fair, it could also be argued, as both Mr. Schultz and Mr.
Bloomberg do, that the other political party is led by too controversial a
In any event, the political canter in the U.S. appears to be reasserting its
veto over political party extreme movements.
Senators Joe Manchin, an atypical and moderate Democrat, and Susan
Collins, an atypical and moderate Republican, are examples of centrist
forces in the U.S. senate, and there are numerous similar examples in the
U.S. house. Several centrist state governors of both major parties also
defy ideological and parochial stereotyping.
There are occasions when centrist figures occupy the White House, such
as during the Eisenhower and the Clinton administrations. And inevitably,
voters reject candidates they perceive as too off-center as they did in
1964 and 1972.
So let the media daggers slash where they may. I suggest that, like stage
weapons in theater plays, they try to create an effect, but are only made
of harmless rubber. The drama of the 2020 presidential cycle, so far only
a comedy, is only in Act One.
Let’s see how this show plays out.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.