Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Different Perspective On a Third Party

(Previously posted on

Frequently, the idea of a third party bid for the Presidency is run up the flagpole. If it gets any attention at all, it’s of the kind that says, “Get that thing down. It’s just going to divide our votes and hand victory to the Democrats.” The Democrats think the same thing about the Ralph Nader forays into politics, but don’t seem inclined to admit it, probably because he’s unlikely to get enough votes to matter this time around.

As I tend to do when I’m driving, I turned the thing around in my head a time or two last week. Here’s what fell out when I stopped:

The last “third party” to succeed was the Republican Party, when the Whigs imploded. But why then, and never since? I know that part of the cause for the Whigs’ demise was their Tariff of Abominations, which led to the “nullification crisis” which was put down by President Jackson. Still, the Whigs lasted until 1850 or so, and I believe the Republican Party was formed after their demise. I’m no historian, so the chronology might be wrong. If not, perhaps we’ve never had a successful third party.

Which then changes the question to “Why not?” I doubt that my answer is correct, but it might help find the right one. Let’s look at today’s situation with our nominee, John McCain.

Because of dissatisfaction with McCain’s conservative bona fides, there’s been some demand for that third party I’ve been referring to, or at least a third-party candidate. Bob Barr has volunteered his hat for the ring, as a True Conservative—or is it Libertarian? Nobody in his right mind expects anything to come of that. But again, “Why not?”

My belief is that for a third party (or candidate) to succeed, it(he) would have to fill a clear-cut, easily discernable, gaping void left by both/all the major parties. And right now there isn’t one. The Democrats have the Political Left covered like a burka on the fourth wife. The McCain Republicans have the Right covered, albeit more like a too-small blanket on a cold night. McCain has taken a blanket that used to reach from the far-right to the somewhat-left-of-center in the electorate, and he’s wrapped himself up in it while he’s placed himself almost in the middle, as he tries to throw it over a few of those farther-to-the-left-of-center voters.

By doing that, he’s left the far- and moderately-far-right voters out in the cold; at least they feel that way on issues like illegal immigration and political speech and a few others. The blanket is too little, what with being wrapped around McCain and all. But there just aren’t enough of those issues to support that third party, and the voters who care about those issues are likely to be pretty much in tune with other Republicans on other Right-oriented issues. Absent a Ross Perot, they're still likely to put their cold feet into their sensible shoes and walk to the polling place to vote Republican. A third party candidate who campaigns on just those few issues is almost guaranteed to split the conservative vote and hand the win to the ‘Crats. If I’m right, there isn’t any reason to think that a third party is viable right now.

What could make a Conservative Party viable? I think it would require the Republican Party to abdicate most all opposition to Leftist ideas while abdicating real allegiance to the Right. Although you might say that we’re headed that way, it hasn’t come close to a point of no return—yet.

McCain is now the head of the Republican Party, and he professes to have strong conservative beliefs in the areas of fiscal integrity and national defense. He seems to have grasped the importance of lower tax rates. He tells us he’ll appoint Justices like Roberts and Alito. And he’s still within hailing distance of the idea of smaller government. But if he wins, and if the next four years don’t show some progress, those third party proponents will be getting louder. And they’ll have more of the necessities: the void will be gaping ever wider.

Let’s talk “brands.” It’s the rage these days. Republican Party leaders have made the mistake of losing faith in their own principals. Instead of consolidating around Conservatism, they’ve tried to attract “middlers”--independents and moderate Democrats--by offering them Brand X Liberalism. Just as Coke found out that Pepsi drinkers weren’t going to buy Pepsi that was called “New Coke,” those “middlers” aren’t going to buy modern-day Liberalism if it’s being peddled by Republicans. They want the real thing; or they want to be told why they should want to switch to Coke—the old Coca Cola—Conservatism.

That’s what Reagan did (IIRC). He didn’t say, “Well, if you want those high tax rates, we Republicans can do them even better than the Democrats.” He said, “You may think you want high tax rates, but you shouldn’t, and I’ll show you why.” And he did show us.

My Gawd, Republicans. Don’t you believe in your own product? Your own principles? You can’t expand the party by trying to be like the Democrats. You expand it by being different and better, and you convince the “middlers” that you are right and the Democrats are wrong.

If the Republican Party continues to drift Leftwards, the blanket will leave more and more conservatives with their feet out in the cold, soon to be followed by their derrieres. When there are enough people in that position, then there really won’t be a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, and that’s when a Conservative Party can succeed. But it won’t be a third party, because the Republican Party will have gone the way of the Whigs by trivializing itself out of existence.

(Original comments are here.)

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