The Czar can’t remember when the Gormogons last had a multi-post debate, but GorT’s piece, ”We Missed an Opportunity,” echoes a conversation the Czar had at dinner with his elder boy, who not only asked the same questions GorT did, but raised some of the exact same points.
GorT is obviously right that the bicameral nature of the American political infrastructure makes it extremely difficult to establish a third party. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least for the Czar, because a parliamentary-type system with three or more parties makes it very simple to pass legislation with only a plurality. Remember how we hated Obamacare? Imagine that passing with only 35% of the vote. That can easily happen in a trio of parties.
Third parties have successfully happened in America, but basically only twice and for very clear reasons that not only could happen again, but would pretty much need to happen for a viable third party to pop up.
First, you need a total collapse of a party. This happened with the once-dominant Federalists and it happened with the less imposing Whigs. When parties just can’t get candidates elected, that’s what happens. The far-more-common failure of third parties and independent candidates is a result of the comparative strength of Democrats and Republicans. Ross Perot, for example, was never going to be elected as long as Democrats and Republicans were still getting people elected to Congress at a good pace. Ditto for Teddy’s Bull Moose Party.
Second, you need a polarizing issue that isn’t really being addressed by either party. For the Democratic-Republicans, it was the imbalance of slavery that caused the party to split into a new party as the “Democrats” (as they later came to be known) solidified power, leaving the more anti-slavery members without a place to go. They became the Whigs, ultimately, but even then, the Whig party wasn’t able to get members elected in big enough numbers. As a result, the anti-slavery Americans in politics needed a place to go, and the new Republican party was the perfect place for them. The Republicans were a more-unified coalition of groups that were outcasts in other third-party attempts, to some degree, so this made sense.
Third, it helps to have a notable figure driving the ship. This might be a controversial claim by us, because this did not actually occur in the two examples we list above, but probably will be essential from now on. You need someone who can draw attention, consolidate power, and raise cash in a big way in a big hurry. Okay, maybe the newly formed Democrat party was able to do so thanks to Andrew Jackson, but it’s going to take someone with even more pull today.
Here’s a scenario that illustrates our point.
Let us say the Democrat party (although this scenario works either way, the Czar wants to use them for an example later) is unable to get people elected to government outside of a few local assemblies, maybe a governor or two, and few representatives here and there. Traditional Democrat voters are going to be disenfranchised by this, and will start shopping around.
Then, we need a major, polarizing event the Republicans can’t address. Slavery is more or less done, depending on whom you ask, so let’s say the Republicans have decided to outright ban abortion in any form. This won’t be popular among the remaining Democrats, and indeed might tick off a bunch of less-conservative Republicans, too.
Then, a popular figure arises (in our dinner table discussion yesterday, we picked Mark Cuban…not because he would do such a thing, but because he would have enough name-recognition, clout, and money to be a typical example). Cuban, for whatever reason, decides to run for office and established a third party. He dumps an incredible amount of cash into his effort, and suddenly Democrats and former Republicans start coalescing around him. This, by the way, is why Libertarians can’t seem to get real traction.
And let’s add one more thing into the mix: some sort of utter party PR disaster. Let’s say the Democrats or Republicans nominate their candidate, and suddenly—maybe in August or September before the election—he winds up involved in a major, humiliating scandal…something Americans really hate. Maybe he’s photographed naked watching Cuties on Netflix…something really bad.
Suddenly, outraged Republicans start drifting toward that third party, and now there’s a real party at work, developing policies well beyond the original issue that coalesced them (and that’s why the Green party will never be viable).
To form a third party in America, something catastrophic needs to occur; and as our examples above show, you need a series of events to happen. Indeed, most engineers will agree that a catastrophe requires a series of events of happen in advance.
Rather, there are easier ways to meet these needs than third parties. The Democrats, for example, have transformed into a new party yet again rather than create a third party.
In the mid-to-late-Sixties, the Democrats went from a pro-business, moderate-tax, pro-military group under Kennedy to a pro-welfare, big government structure. This drove a lot of Democrats to the GOP throughout the 1970s and especially the 1980s. The same dissatisfaction with the new direction of the party caused a whiplash in the 1990s, in which Democrats openly became more pro-Leftist. We’re at a point today in which the current Democrat party is being engulfed by socialists, Marxists, and even communists. In 10 years, the party will likely be unrecognizable from the perspective of John F. Kennedy. In fact, the Democrats will, functionally, be a brand new party as they purge out the moderates. They may be, functionally, indistinguishable from the Socialist parties of Eugene Debs.
Now you have a new political party without any of the catastrophic steps required. No third party required. It may be hard to turn a battleship, but it’s easier than building one out of nothing.
We may very well be in the early stages of seeing a new Republican party forming now. This takes decades or more, so the “Ahoy Matey”* cruise-ship Never Trumpers announcing the death of the Republican party are woefully premature, but they might not—in the long run—be incorrect.
The Czar doesn’t know whether the Republicans are moving more Libertarian or more Liberal to accommodate the moderates being purged from the Democrats.** But he is pretty confident we’re a longer way from a viable third party than it might seem.
*Hat tip to the Mandarin for this term. He says he invented it. The Czar bets Mandy heard it on the radio.
** The Czar, numerous times on this site, has postulated that Democrats are the opposition third party, and that the two American parties should be the Republicans and the Libertarians, which would provide moderation and balance as well as make changing party affiliation very easy on an election-by-election basis.