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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Why a Third Party is Not the Answer

Some think that the problems with the Republican party can best be solved by striking out to create a third party. But the problems with the GOP are almost certain to be repeated in trying to create any third party. The two most basic elements a political party, structure and financing, help insure that the men and women who run it will be good at fundraising and finding compromises between different factions and members. Which are the key qualifications of the Republican leadership. And always have been.

The current tensions over the Tea Party Convention demonstrate that these kind of problems don't go away, simply because you try to create something new. They are not the product of a vast conspiracy. They're problems that are part of the process, that come out of human nature, and that you will bump into whenever you try to create something similar. It is far easier to kick start a populist movement, than it is to transform it into an organized party. And compromises are bound to come along the way. After enough of those compromises, sometimes what you end up with, is very different than what you have.

To create a national third party would require a lot of money and an organization that could negotiate and resolve disputes, while providing leadership. The latter is actually a lot harder than the former, but both require some form of compromising, without compromising on what really matters. The Republican party picks up a lot of its money from major corporations, precisely because it is willing to compromise on things like immigration, international trade or terrorism. That is why the party is the way it is, but the trick would be not to go down that same path. Which is easier said than done.

Third parties in American history have primarily existed to either integrate with an existing party and force it to take on some of its positions, or take the place of an existing disintegrating party. Creating a third party simply to integrate with the Republican party and shift its platform to the right, would not necessarily be a bad idea, but it's not an easy one either. And if the integration doesn't happen, we would be risking another 4 years of Obama and a Democratic congress. And as for replacing the Republican party, that isn't very likely to happen except with a level of organization and funding that would make the third party competitive on a nationwide scale. A process that would likely result in a message almost as watered down as the GOP itself.

The most successful Third Party candidate in American history was former President Theodore Roosevelt, who created his own party to compete against his Republican replacement. His great achievement was finishing second. The Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, who took advantage of the split, won a minority of the popular vote and took office. What followed was WW1, Prohibition and eventually the Great Depression.

If one of the most popular Republican Presidents in American history couldn't do any better than second place when stepping outside his own party and splitting the vote, even when running against two generally bland and not particularly popular candidates, it isn't likely that any modern day contender could do any better. A few local elections could be won here or there, but it would take many times the effort to sell the public on an independent candidate, than it does to sell them on that same candidate running on the Republican ticket.

By contrast it is easier to push the Republican party to the right from within, than it is to create a party from scratch that is meant to accomplish the same thing. If Soros has proven one thing, it's that you can take over a party from the inside, if you have the organization, the tools and the money, and still have most the party willing to go along with you, even if they curse your name in private. Obama vs Hillary was the left's big day, and while they may blow it, they did demonstrate that it is possible. And what can be done once, can be done again.

Furthermore applying rightward pressure takes much less accord than creating an actual party. You don't need to agree on everything or have a centralized leadership to do so. You can stay a populist movement true to your values, without the big budgets and the suits. You can avoid at least some of the compromises and corruption, because you can focus on your mission, more than on the structure and the finances.

And while a Third Party might push the Republican party to the right in order to protect its turf, it could also conceivably push it to the center, which in turn would push the Democrats further to the left. The result would swing the national balance to the left, rather than to the right. Predicting exactly what might happen in politics is the prognostication of fools, but that kind of unpredictability has destabilized the best laid political plans before. And can once again.

That is not to say that the idea of a Third Party should ever be completely ruled out, but implementing it would be a major challenge, equivalent to throwing up another four Empire State Buildings. It is easy enough of course to create a Third Party that will take 0.6 percent of the vote in national elections and field a dozen candidates for office somewhere. There are more than a few parties like that already, and their only real accomplishment is that they've subtracted themselves and their followers from the political equation. Creating a Third Party that is competitive with the Democrats and Republicans would require a high level of organization, serious funding and overcoming a lot of egos.

The increasingly rigid two party politics of the United States today have made it much tougher to create a competitive Third Party now than it was in the 19th century, when politics were much wilder and more unsettled. The party system has been tamed from within, and while it is not impossible to create a competitive Third Party, that could operate without the big budgets, the media and build its own name recognition-- it would be a Herculean task. And in the end there is no such thing as an incorruptible party. Only one that shares more of our agenda, than the other party does.

The essential question is do we fight the elephant or try to ride it. The idea of starting fresh is emotionally appealing, but practically unsatisfying. And it is precisely now, at a time when the Republican party is philosophically adrift, that the opportunity is right to try and transform the party itself.

4 comments:

Following Him said...

While I agree with most all of what you have to say in this posting ... if Perot had not dropped out over his daughters wedding threats and then trying to get back in the race, he may have had a very good chance of winning.

Only time will tell in 2012. Most of America would like to try something different.

Keli Ata said...

I wasn't terribly impressed with Perot. His running mate was a complete disaster in the debates. Horrible public speaking skills.

The best and most practical option is to reform the Republican Party.




OT: If Tea Party camp were to become a full-fledged party I wonder what their mascot would be?

For the life of me I can't figure out why the Democrats would choose a jackass and the Republicans an elephant. Odd choices!

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

I doubt Perot would have actually won, and his unstable behavior was a demonstration of why. Mainly what he accomplished was to help elect Bill Clinton.

ytba said...

One Thursday evening, during that campaign, we had our weekly Torah Shiur, and in response to a question about the letter Peh, in Paroah, the Rabbi began showing how all words that began with Peh had similar overtones of meaning. I remember thinking about Ross Perot, and when I checked my Hebrew dictionary, found that one way to vocalize the letters of his name gave a translation of "Head" (or "Beginning") of "Disorder." It made no sense to me at the time (even though he was a loose canon, and acted very nutty at times), but... Could it be that he was merely a sign that a Clinton presidency would burst open the floodgates of chaos? In hindsight, that is what has happened, after all.

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