advice from a fake consultant

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Friday, January 19, 2007

On Tightening the Tent, Or, Why Third Parties Don’t Elect Presidents These Days

For today’s conversation, let’s discuss why, despite the desire for third parties, independent candidates seem to never really get over the top, why a third party will probably never succeed in actually winning elections, and where this might all lead.

Why third parties, or independent candidates at all, for that matter?

To put it simply, both the Democratic and Republican orthodoxies have decided to “shrink the tent”.

By that, I mean both parties have been directing the largest amount of their efforts lately to retaining certain core constituencies, while ignoring the remaining voters who don’t fit the correct “most likely voter” profile.

It’s easy to see the D’s and R’s playing to their “most likely” supporters, and it’s easy to see the results.

Examples are in order..

Here are two: the World Domination Through Any Means Necessary crowd has an inordinate amount of power in the R camp, and D’s are currently engaged in that crazy DLC v. All Other Democrats and Reality conflict we’ve been observing.

More? How about the “sins of omission”.

Both parties have angry constituencies, who feel ignored: Evangelical Christians want social changes imposed by Government they’ve not yet achieved.

Minorities, social justice and worker’s rights advocates also find themselves frustrated.

If you have ever voted for a candidate only because you hated the other one more (virtually every Presidential election?), you understand the sins of omission.

As has been observed frequently, this creates a big pot of potential voters for the candidate who can fill the empty spot in the middle.

So why don’t the candidates win who try to straddle this gap?
Why can’t third parties thrive?

I suspect a major part of the problem is that the gap is not homogeneous.
That is to say, the gap is populated with disaffected D and R citizens.

People who have common ground, but perhaps only believe the extent of that common ground is their disgust with the change in Government and on their own side.

Consider this list of recent independent Presidential candidates (and hopefuls); you’ll see what I mean:

Ross Perot, John Anderson, Steve Forbes, Barry Commoner, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, Joe Lieberman (just kidding on that last one…At least for the moment I’m kidding.).

There’s potential D or R support for each one of these-but not much D and R support for any of ‘em.

Where are you going with all of this, fake consultant?
Gentle Reader, I’m glad you asked.

I’m suggesting this may be an example of the duality of Zen.

That, ironically, in order for the gap to be fully enabled as a political force, it will have to be diffused, and it’s power diminished, by the formation of not just a third, but also a fourth party.

These “parties”, especially at first, might need to be less tightly bound than the current D and R structures, as they might reasonably be expected to have a fairly fluid connection to potential new candidates/allies/funders “coming in from the cold”, as it were.

Where might this all lead?

Here’s some guesses:

If a fluid 3rd and 4th “party” were to evolve, party conventions, or the immediate run-up period just before might become a sort of “superprimary”, with a second-place finisher and what organization they can grab sliding to the appropriate alternative group. Obviously, this scenario also requires credible alternative candidates willing to bolt.

History, and the list above, suggests they’ll be found.

Any Presidents elected from these parties would have, at best, “challenged” relationships with D’s and R’s in Congress. This suggests a “Great Communicator/Fireside Chat” sort of an approach might be needed to attempt to influence Members through the voters in their districts.

If such “New Coke” parties were successful, would the “Classic Coke” D and R management be willing to change to recover these voting blocs?

My guess, especially on the R side, is no. More likely you would see either a sort of eternal scorched-earth campaign, to the detriment of most, or all, of the participants; or a repeat of the Reform Party situation.

The fly in the ointment here is the ability of alternative candidates to get on the ballot in 50 states. Any alternative parties, therefore, would have to depend on getting the “threshold” level of votes required in each state that guarantee a presence on the next ballot.

The only Party I’ve seen that succeeds in meeting the threshold consistently is Libertarian, and I don’t view them as the sort of “fluid” party we’re discussing here. (For fans of “The Right Stuff” I’d suggest that being on the ballot even precludes the “No bucks, no Buck Rogers” conversation.)

For reasons discussed above, the role of the Internet will continue to be explored by candidates and parties.

The currently unknown question of whether a political community can be sustained between Presidential elections would have to be addressed.
Would such a community run Congressional candidates?

A final two questions:

Keeping all this in mind; how might Mc Cain, Edwards, Obama, HRC, and players currently unknown work this dynamic?

The concept of branding, in a political context, has until now been used only by the existing Parties.

Might there be a place for Party-independent branding of political actors?

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