A group of 13 independent candidates are planning moves to make a third party in American politics and hope to bring along registered Democrats for the adventure. They plan to “create shared infrastructure and funding for a slate of campaigns around the country,” in the run-up to the 2018 Governor and Senate elections. But who are they, what’s their platform, and why now?
The Centrist Project put together by Dartmouth academic, Charles Wheelan, held a conference this weekend to discuss strategies, funding, staffing, polling and campaign mechanics. For a Party that is looking to break away from the “toxic Republicans” and the “disarray of the Democrats”, they enlisted some particularly establishment speakers. According to Politico last week:
“A member of En Marche, French President Emmanuel Macron’s party, will do a briefing on how a party that didn’t exist a year ago won the presidency and now a majority in the National Assembly. Two prominent former Republican operatives—Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, and Reed Galen, who worked on both Bush campaigns and was John McCain’s 2008 deputy campaign manager—will weigh in with advice.”
This whole idea sprang originally from the shocking victory of Alaska Governor, Bill Walker in his 2014 campaign. Walker quit the Republican Party to run as an independent and took on a Democrat as his lieutenant governor. The group is hoping to bridge the partisan divide in this manner by appealing to registered party voters as well as independent voters.
Walker extols the virtues, benefits and difficulties of being an Independent candidate in an interview:
“If a candidate comes up and says, ‘I’m a Republican’ or ‘I’m a Democrat,’ people know within probably 70 percent of where they stand. With an independent, it’s like, ‘OK, tell me about yourself,’” he went on to point out the inherent difficulties “those that are running as independent have to work a little harder. We have to be a little bit more creative and figure out how to get it done.”
Former G.W. Bush Strategist, Matthew Dowd, suggests that the candidates’ issues won’t necessarily be financial ones: “The greatest barrier right now to this is not money, not tactics. The greatest barrier is psychological,” Dowd says. “If you can break that by winning some races, then I think the media starts covering it more.”
The founding of a new party using the remnants of two old ones has been met with some skepticism; critics are pointing out that if the candidates can’t achieve reform within their own parties, how will they be able to achieve reform for a whole nation? This has been the third party dilemma for decades. Reform from within established parties or break out and start from scratch. The list of potential third parties seems to grow every election cycle, but no Hercules has yet emerged to take down the twin pillars, Republican and Democrat parties.
At best, third parties of the past have managed to syphon votes from the party they are most closely aligned with and ensured the election of the party with which they have the least in common. Ross Perot’s Reform Party “success” is credited by many as a key to Bill Clinton’s election. However, Independents are the largest voting block (45%) in America, outnumbering both Republicans (25%) and Democrats (28%) according to Gallup. Independents do not have an organized party and individual voters tend to lean Republican or lean Democrat. There may be fertile ground for a third party, but overcoming the ingrained two-party system will be no small feat.
Mark is a political writer and journalist who has worked on campaigns for Brexit.