The issue of creating a third major political party in the U.S.
is a periodic and traditional phenomenon. New third parties
have come and gone since the earliest days of the republic,
with Whigs replacing the Federalists, Jacksonian Democrats
replacing the Jeffersonian Democrats, Republicans replacing
the Whigs --- all of which cemented the U.S. as a two-party
nation. After the Civil War, a series of true third parties arose,
and occasionally affected the outcomes of presidential races,
but their nature as protest parties limited their shelf life as
the issues which provoked them passed.
Recently, in the post-World War II period, notable third party
efforts took place around individual figures, e.g. Strom
Thurmond (1948), Henry Wallace (1948), George Wallace (1968),
John Anderson (1980), Ross Perot (1992 and (1996), and Ralph
Nader (2000). These candidates either received 5% or more of
the vote, obtained electoral votes, and/or affected the outcome
of that year’s election. Only Ross Perot, in 1992, ever had a lead
over the major party candidates in pre-election polls. Former
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, was in 2016
mentioned, and reportedly considering, a major third party
campaign, but it did not happen.
Today, in 2017, there is again increasing talk of forming a new
third party, as the two existing major parties, the Democrats
and the Republicans appear to be abandoning the always
critical political center, each moving toward the extreme wings
of their party bases.
The most egregious example of this is the Democratic Party,
now out of power in state capitols, as well as the nation’s capitol
in Washington, DC. A populist fever arose in 2015-16 in that
hitherto liberal party under the banner of the “progressive”
campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, and has only risen since
the election of Donald Trump. Moderate liberals are being
pushed out of the way in this party insurrection, even though
these left of center liberals continue to represent the heart of
The Republican Party, now in control of the White House, both
houses of Congress, most state governorships and legislatures,
and soon the federal judicial branch, is enduring a different
crisis. It has a moderate conservative wing, and a wing further
to the right, but this natural conflict was seemingly resolved
by the election of Mr. Trump who belonged to neither faction.
Soon enough, however, the differing policy points of view led
to inaction on legislation promised by the party in its 2016
campaign. Admittedly, repealing Obamacare, and replacing it,
has turned out to be more problematic than campaign rhetoric
said it would be, but with the votes they need already in their
hands, the public is no mood for alibis. The GOP dilemma is
further complicated by the fact that a significant number of
centrist Republicans feel alienated in a party led by Donald
Trump, their least favorite figure in the 2016 presidential field.
As with their Democratic counterparts, the populist wing of
the GOP has some momentum, but the right of center
conservatives still form the voter base of the party.
Mr. Bloomberg, now 75 and out of office, continues to be
sought out by third party advocates, as are former California
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, West Virginia Senator Joe
Manchin, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Ohio Governor
John Kasich, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and others
who are publicly expressing disatisfaction with directions in
their own parties.
But I think we are still quite some distance from a serious
movement toward forming a significant new and centrist
third party. This distance and time might have to wait until
the results are in from the 2018 national midterm elections.
Nevertheless, both major parties need to be increasingly
aware, and on alert, of the risks they each take by polarizing
the ideologies of their respective party organizations, and
turning away traditional allies.
The biggest risk, of course, is for the Republicans. Their
party is nominally in charge at all levels of government (with
the notable exception of most large urban local governments.)
Voters put elected officials in their positions to solve problems.
Recently, they have rightly shown some impatience with those
who fail to fulfill their promises and practice their rhetoric.
Just because third parties have not succeeded in recent times
is no guarantee that it can’t happen here. It just did happen,
and in a big way, with our oldest ally, France.
And, oh yes, Donald Trump is president of the United States.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved