“Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.” ~Santayana
An increasing number of conservatives and misguided patriots are considering supporting a third party in the 2010 and 2012 elections. The traditional home of conservatives, the Republican Party, has been courting “moderates” for years, ignoring its conservative base. The Republican establishment is convinced that moderates are the key to winning elections because they believe only moderates can attract the independent voters necessary to win any election. Experience has shown this to be an erroneous assumption on the part of Republicans. On a level playing field moderates lose every time. Voters tend to gravitate to candidates with a clear set of values and the ability to articulate them.
As long as the main stream media keep promoting the moderate myth and party leaders keep believing it, the Republican Party will continue promoting moderates. Party leaders, like their counterparts in private business are always trying to increase “market share”. They do this by protecting the incumbents already in office and attempting to add to their share by gaining seats currently held by the opposition party. Both parties practice this tactic. Democrats running in Republican districts try to sound conservative and Republicans running in Democrat districts try to sound progressive. The problem is that too many candidates on the Republican side actually are progressive Republicans.
Conservatives have become fed up with this game that ends up giving them a choice in the general election between a progressive Republican and a progressive Democrat. That is one reason why so many are considering a Third Party. Third parties have played an important role in American political history, but they do not win elections. That is not because they do not have good ideas; it is because of the “winner take all” system set up by the Founders. Whether it requires a majority to win or a plurality, the end result is the same. One of the two major parties win and third parties only become spoilers for the one most closely aligned with its own position.
The first candidate to run for President on a third party ticket was William Wirt in 1832, running on the Antimasonic ticket. He got a whopping 7 electoral votes out of the 286 cast. John Floyd, running as an independent (no party) in the same election got 11 votes by comparison. The two major party candidates at the time, Democrat Andrew Jackson and National Republican Henry Clay, got 219 and 49 electoral votes respectively. The most successful third party candidates in Presidential elections were Theodore Roosevelt running on the Progressive Party ticket in 1912, Strom Thurmond running on the States Rights Democratic ticket in 1948, and George Wallace running on the American Independent ticket in 1968. State and local politics are different than Presidential politics because of the Electoral College, but the results are the same.
Third parties have succeeded in winning a smattering of elective offices at the state and local level out of the tens of thousands there are nationwide. Although third parties have had limited success in electing state and local candidates, those successes have always proven temporary, lasting only until the “Peter Principle” kicks in and they reach their level of incompetence. To understand the dynamics of third party influence, we have only to look at two modern examples of groups that have exercised a substantial influence over American politics.
Although the tea party movement is not a political party, no one can deny that they are having a tremendous influence on the political establishment in America today. They give us one of the models of the dynamics at work when third parties are effective in molding public opinion to their cause. The other model comes from the opposite end of the political spectrum, the Democratic Socialists of America. What do these two groups have in common? Both have a remarkable influence in American politics, yet neither nominate candidates of their own. Instead they wield their influence by backing like-minded candidates in one of the two major parties; the tea parties in the Republican Party and the socialists in the Democrat Party.
To understand how effective this tactic is, consider the testimony of the Democratic Socialist of America itself as expressed in the Q & A section of their website.
Q. Aren’t you a party that’s in competition with the Democratic Party for votes and support?
A. No, we are not a separate party. Like our friends and allies in the feminist, labor, civil rights, religious, and community organizing movements, many of us have been active in the Democratic Party. We work with those movements to strengthen the party’s left wing, represented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. (emphasis added)
The process and structure of American elections seriously hurts third party efforts. Winner-take-all elections instead of proportional representation, rigorous party qualification requirements that vary from state to state, a presidential instead of a parliamentary system, and the two-party monopoly on political power have doomed third party efforts. We hope that at some point in the future, in coalition with our allies, an alternative national party will be viable. For now, we will continue to support progressives who have a real chance at winning elections, which usually means left-wing Democrats.”
Using this tactic, progressives (American socialists) have succeeded in taking over the Democrat Party and now control the White House and both branches of Congress. Conservatives do not need to reinvent the wheel, they simply need to follow the example of the tea parties and the socialists. In the end, as the socialists have discovered, third party candidacies always prove counter productive to their own goals. It is difficult to argue with the lessons of history. The lesson is there and well stated by the DSA. We can only hope that conservatives learn it before it is too late.
For a discussion of the DSA’s role in giving us Barack Obama, see our post from a year ago, “Obama’s Four Year Plan”