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Will 2018 Be a Breakout Year For a Viable Third Party?

The last presidential election left the traditional Democratic and Republican parties splintered. The growing sentiment that the Washington establishment is more interested in representing themselves than the people that elected them helped lead to the rises of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, as people turned out to express their displeasure with the status quo.

How could this have happened? A lingering hangover from Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy may be a good place to start. After the Johnson administration championed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Southern white voters found themselves in a quandary with the Democratic Party. Nixon, sensing a true opening, courted the South to move to the Republican Party, leading to some unintended consequences.

In his book, Religion in America: A Political History, Denis Lacome notes: “The recapture of the South by Lincoln’s Party came at a price: the rightward shift of Republican ideology and especially the leaders’ adoption of cultural, and religious values that a majority of the white, Southern, evangelic electorate hold.” At the same time that the Republican Party was shifting to the right, Lacome notes “another long term trend: the increasing secularization of American society.” According to author Clarence Munford in his book, Race and Reparations: A Black Perspective for the 21st Century, liberal Democrats, as a reaction to the Republican Southern Strategy, had “a white middle-class strategy of their own, committing the party to sink or swim with the votes of white Reagan Democrats, white Baby Boom suburbanites, white Gay and Lesbian, white Pro-Choicers and white Environmentalists.” Today, Democratic party leaders all but ignore the black “special interest” on the assumption that African-American voters have nowhere else to go—either vote Democrat or refrain from voting at all.

Both main parties thus began to gravitate to the “wedge issue strategy.” As Jack Snyder notes in his book Power and Progress: International Politics in Transition:

A party adopts a wedge issue strategy when it takes a polarizing stance on an issue that 1.) lies off the main axis of cleavage that separates the two parties, 2.) fits the values and attitudes of the party’s own base, yet 3.) can win votes among some independents or members of the opposing party who can be persuaded to place a high priority on this issue. It is worth stressing what this strategy is not. It is not just playing to one’s own base; it is also designed to raid the opponent’s base.

But now the drums are beating. Democrats are tiring of their party ignoring their traditional social-justice core and Republicans are growing weary of the ever-increasing government debt and centralization of power in Washington. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, “There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.” 

Enter the 2018 election cycle where several seats in many states will be up for grabs. Lately, state legislatures are even more polarized than the U.S. Congress. Followers of Bernie Sanders feel that the Democratic Party cheated them out of their voice—some even defected to the Trump camp. Many well-intentioned Trump supporters, although in lockstep with some of his agenda, are disgusted by his personal antics. The Democrats have suffered from an inability to recruit interesting new candidates and the Republicans have failed to bring fresh blood into many of their races. In fact, some potential new Republican candidates have been advised to “sit out” this fall’s campaigns because of a potential Trump backlash.

This is the perfect recipe for the emergence of a viable third party.

Traditionally, the largest third party in modern American politics has been the Libertarians. The Libertarian Party has been around since 1971 and has had a significant influence on the current administration as well as the Republican Party as a whole. Its views have created a perception that it’s “far-right,” but lately it’s made forays into conservative and even progressive realms with popular candidates and leaders like Ron Paul, who ran for president under the Libertarian moniker in 1988. Other Libertarian presidential candidates have included former Republican congressmen Bob Barr, Harry Browne, and most recently former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.

Also ranked near the top has been the Green Party, which was founded in 2001 and has become known for its activism in environmental causes. Often associated with the “far left” and represented in the past by Jill Stein and Ralph Nader, the Green Party has had an influence on the Democrats, with several of their causes having been incorporated into the national Democratic platform.

Also quietly gaining momentum is the American Solidarity Party (ASP) [1]. According to their website they are:

a true, organically-grown grassroots party that was formed by people looking for a third way in the polarized and interest-group-driven landscape of American politics, modeled on Christian Democratic parties throughout the world, shaped by unique aspects of American culture and law. In 2016, we officially incorporated, registered as a political party with the FEC, and ran a nationwide presidential campaign, all with purely volunteer efforts and small donors.

With a focus on trying to “seek to bridge the bitter partisan divide with principled and respectful policies and dialog,” their platform could appeal to both Trump and Sanders supporters weary of the current winner-take-all wedge climate now pervading politics. ASP’s unique mixed platform presents a tremendous amount of potential among younger voters and disenfranchised stalwarts alike that feel more comfortable with a broad majority compromise. Again, Tocqueville put it best when he underscored the need for a politics of solidarity:

Without common ideas, there is no common action, and without common action men still exist, but a social body does not. Thus in order that there be society, and all the more, that this society prosper, it is necessary that all the minds of the citizens always be brought together and held together by some principle ideas. 

The de facto historical role of third parties has been to inject their perspectives into the major party’s platforms. Because both the Green Party and the Libertarians have been associated with the extreme ends of the political spectrum, it’s difficult to imagine that one of them will ever rise to the status of majority party. Furthermore, many consider a third-party vote to be more of a protest than an actual precursor to victory.

All that could change with the rise of a centrist alternative like the ASP. Consider this: the Senate is currently made up of 51 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and two Independents. Imagine the election of just five senators from a third party who sometimes voted with the Democrats and sometimes voted with the Republicans—they would instantly become the most powerful senators in Washington.

Furthermore, will many Southern Strategy Republicans, fearing draconian cuts to social programs look for a centrist alternative? Will socially compassionate Democrats who are disgusted with the extreme partisanship in Washington move to the middle? Neither shift is beyond the realm of the possible.

The winds of change are starting to blow. 2018 could emerge as the year that a third party achieves viability—through moderation, not ideology.

John Burtka III, who was formerly involved in the global automotive industry, now acts as a Lean-Six Sigma business consultant, entrepreneur, Community Mental Health board member, and county commissioner.

30 Comments (Open | Close)

30 Comments To "Will 2018 Be a Breakout Year For a Viable Third Party?"

#1 Comment By collin On January 10, 2018 @ 2:20 pm

Simple Answer: No

Pundit Answer:
Given that Trump is governing like an establishment Republican and Democrats know the best way to control him is to take the House.

#2 Comment By Brian Villanueva On January 10, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

I’ve been saying for a while that there is room in America for a socially conservative, slightly protectionist, pro-safety net party. I’d never heard of the American Solidarity Party, but at first glance through their website, that’s what they sound like.

#3 Comment By Fred Bowman On January 10, 2018 @ 3:44 pm

Don’t know about the rise of any third party as the majority of the American electorate had been propagandized into believing that unless you vote Democrat or Republican you’re wasting your vote. Also third parties in general don’t seem to be able to establish strong roots in local and state politics before trying to go national. If any new political party is to emerge that can take on the Democrat-Republican political monopoly, then it’s going to have to come from the “bottom up” then from the “top down”.

#4 Comment By John Gruskos On January 10, 2018 @ 3:53 pm

The dogmatically open borders ASP is far less important than the Constitution Party.

The Constitution Party is a nationalist, culturally conservative party ideally positioned to steal disillusioned Trump supporters and Cruz voters from the Republican Party.

Trump’s betrayal of his own nationalist/populist platform will convince many nationalists and conservatives that the Republican Party cannot be reformed.

#5 Comment By EarlyBird On January 10, 2018 @ 4:19 pm

The way for a third party victory is to declare a truce in the culture wars, and focus like a laser beam on improving the long-term economic and social health of the middle class. Part of the focus would be on exposing how both parties’ elites keep the status quo in place to help themselves at Americans’ expense.

Declare the party to be equally welcoming of the Christian conservative white male and the transgendered black hip hop artist, since their platform doesn’t take on culture, but takes on ways to improve the lot of both of these divergent types. Simply state, “we may have to agree to disagree on many things. But we can agree on ensuring that everyone improves their living standards.”

#6 Comment By Dane Garrett On January 10, 2018 @ 5:00 pm

I am on the MD state committee for the ASP. Thank you for mentioning us. @John Gruskos we are definitely smaller than the Constitution party but they have shot their credibility by being generally pro-Trump. If you want to challenge the Zeitgeist you have to be willing to really put up a fight.

#7 Comment By Peter H On January 10, 2018 @ 5:44 pm

I can’t remember who said it first, but this remains good advice with regards to political punditry: Whenever a headline asks a question, the answer is “No.”

#8 Comment By David Nash On January 10, 2018 @ 6:11 pm

No.

These lurid fantasies of Third Party Ascending always overlook the framework.

Both Republicans and Democrats loathe and fear the very notion of a viable Third Party.

The Election laws have been gamed to favor the incumbent parties, and challengers haven’t a chance.

By the time any Third Party will gain enough traction to be a threat, the Rs and Ds will manage to coopt enough of the Third Party voters to nullify its gains.

Since both parties are funded by the same class of people, who are not about to allow their pets to suffer damage, the Third Party idea remains in that area with Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin, and the Tooth Fairy.

The game is rigged, and your choices are limited. Other than after social collapse, it’s going to be this way for some time.

#9 Comment By Desmond Silveira On January 10, 2018 @ 6:57 pm

Brian Villanueva,
You are correct that the ASP is a socially conservative, pro-safety net party, but I don’t see it being protectionist at all.

John Gruskos,
You are correct that the Constitution Party is currently much larger than the ASP. However, the ASP has experienced explosive growth from 2016 onwards, while the CP has been collapsing. The CP is a nationalist party while the ASP is a solidarist party–opposite ideologies. I think that Americans has gotten tired of Trump’s nationalist agenda and are seeking something other than an “us versus them” mindset.

#10 Comment By JonF On January 10, 2018 @ 7:23 pm

Re: The way for a third party victory is to declare a truce in the culture wars, and focus like a laser beam on improving the long-term economic and social health of the middle class.

This is probably the best comment on this piece. Doubling down on social issues on either side loses too many voters. I know people who voted for Trump convinced he was a social moderate (his history seemed to point to that) and are not happy that he is toeing the rightwing line now. The last time we had a really significant third party challenger it was Ross Perot who was positioned (relative to the 1990s terms) in exactly the space suggested above.

#11 Comment By Jesse On January 10, 2018 @ 7:37 pm

Spoiler Alert – Nope.

#12 Comment By RVA On January 10, 2018 @ 8:08 pm

Again: simple answer, no.
As a 2000 Green Naderite, watching the Dem mindset afterward congeal and harden into ‘Nader cost Gore the election,’ no matter what math or rationale was used, it became obvious. Civics classes are ridiculous. The House keeps being the House, and the House always wins. Two entrances, one red, one blue, but one set of tables, one set of financiers, and one agenda. Money wins. End of story, but lots of theater for the masses every election cycle.

#13 Comment By midtown On January 10, 2018 @ 8:27 pm

The ASP’s immigration position makes them a non-starter. However, any third party would be a kamikaze mission, at least for an election cycle or three. If it grew large enough, it would split the vote of whichever party it was closer to, ensuring both would lose. Perhaps in time the third party would replace a party. And, if a third party were to gain five senatorial slots, they would be denied committee chairmanships and other institutional goodies. Again, most likely they would caucus with the dominant party more closely allied, as Sanders does with the Democrats now. The only way that I see is for TWO new parties to rise up, one on each wing, and roughly equally powerful.

#14 Comment By blackhorse On January 10, 2018 @ 8:29 pm

Depends. What’s on the menu? Who are the target voters? Who’s the figurehead? I don’t think even Mayor Bloomberg and Jeb Bus could come to an understanding. It’s like the Crittenden Compromise (ie a surrender) all over again.

#15 Comment By Robert E. On January 10, 2018 @ 8:39 pm

I’m not really seeing this “explosive growth” or “quiet gaining of momentum” (If they were gaining momentum, it seems to me it wouldn’t be quiet) evidenced anywhere; the ASP is a non-entity.

It isn’t really a centrist party, at least beyond the fact that Catholic parties have always marketed themselves as centrist, as the primary plank of their platform is their strident anti-abortion stance. It is also questionable where the youth appeal for a “Christian” is exactly supposed to be given the rise of the religious “nones”.

But the anti-abortion movement has certainly latched onto the party as a symbol of hope, likely using it as a kind of emergency boat for when the conservative evangelicals who currently have ownership of their issue collapse.

Certainly coupling anti-abortion views with a more appealing (And consistently pro-life) platform could soften the blow and prevent the political death of anti-abortion politics, though I think to break the deadlock on this issue and win over the next generation they’d have to abandon Christianity as the animus for it to adopt a more pragmatic view of sex education and contraception.

Rod actually had a really good idea of a centrist party that would work in seeing Oprah as a “spiritual but not religious” unifying figure. There could be a party plausibly built on that.

2018 isn’t the year for a third party though, as both sides animating our country feel the stakes are too high. 2016 was the year, with two of the worst candidates imaginable, but Libertarianism is a moribund movement, hamstrung by the poor choice of allying with conservatives and then having their movement taken over as well as having the youth who supported libertarianism become radicalized into the white nationalist camp (Which wasn’t entirely their fault, it was often the fault of my fellow liberals, who attacked Ron Paul as a racist during the “Ron Paul Revolution” and really damaged their psyche as well as pushed them away from their previous neutrality regarding Democrats and Republicans). They just couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, so it was wasted.

#16 Comment By Mary S On January 10, 2018 @ 8:56 pm

Why no mention of the Veterans Party? They are far more ready for prime time than the ASP, and have broad appeal due to their sensible positions.

#17 Comment By Captain P On January 10, 2018 @ 11:13 pm

Desmond Silveira says:
January 10, 2018 at 6:57 pm

John Gruskos,
You are correct that the Constitution Party is currently much larger than the ASP. However, the ASP has experienced explosive growth from 2016 onwards, while the CP has been collapsing.

———–

Source? Ballot Access News indicates that the Constitution Party GREW from 2016 to 2017.

#18 Comment By VikingLS On January 10, 2018 @ 11:14 pm

A viable third party really should try getting elected into state and municipal office first, then congress, before wasting their time (other than maybe a symbolic vote) with presidential elections.

#19 Comment By SeanD On January 10, 2018 @ 11:19 pm

Sounds good, but I’ve never heard of it, and there’s no point fragmenting the already small 3rd Party movement. Mulling such options in 2016, I found the pick of the litter to be the Constitution Party: [2]

Unfortunately, even this relatively large 3rd party wasn’t on the ballot in New York.

#20 Comment By MrsDK On January 11, 2018 @ 7:11 am

I’ve never had a political bumper sticker on my car before. This year, I have an ASP sticker on my car — and an ASP mug at work.

Keep saying they’re non-viable, and we’ll keep being stuck with the same Dem/Rep schtick. I want this nation to have more options! After living in the U.K. for 8 years, you start to realize how limited U.S. political life really is.

#21 Comment By Kent On January 11, 2018 @ 9:45 am

I’ve voted 3rd party since Bush 2’s term. Usually Green Party. Which is way too leftist, but I just can’t stand the Libertarians.

Of the 3 parties mentioned above: ASP, Constitution and Veterans, I’ll vote ASP next time (if someone’s on the ballot).

The Constitution Party seems like Libertarians and the Veterans Party seems like neo-cons who don’t like poor people. I especially liked the “we earned our welfare, poor people didn’t!” attitude.

#22 Comment By Quim Bob On January 11, 2018 @ 11:04 am

Go Transhumanist Party!
Actually, 2016 Transhumanist presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan is looking at running for the Libertarian candidacy.

#23 Comment By Peter Gemma On January 11, 2018 @ 11:52 am

the bi-partisan political power brokers have put roadblocks in the path of third parties.
[3]

#24 Comment By Patrick Harris On January 11, 2018 @ 1:05 pm

From a proud ASP member:

No, third parties aren’t going to suddenly transform the political landscape this year. We are in it for the long haul, to do what we can to transform political culture from the ground up. Part of our current predicament is the assumption that all solutions will come from Washington. In the meantime I’m happy to lend my support to a party that’s a lot closer to my convictions than any of the alternatives. The recovery of the common good is the most important imperative in American life.

#25 Comment By Jeeves On January 11, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

The answer is No–for all the reasons given in the preceding comments, and because stalemate is what we’re in for: [4]

Re the ASP, its platform has too many red lines for me. For starters, the immigration plank seems profoundly antagonistic to the idea of “solidarity.” And, just choosing at random, why would anyone want to bring the misnamed “net neutrality” back?

#26 Comment By Faith Roberts On January 12, 2018 @ 7:58 am

As a member of the ASP, I’d like to thank John Burtka III for writing this piece! I echo what Patrick Harris says above. I too am a proud member of the American Solidarity Party. As hard as it is to get a 3rd party up and actually having impact (and we definitely have to think in terms of the long haul) I would rather be doing that than anything else in our current political situation. It really heartens me that there are so many others who want to be part of the solution.

#27 Comment By Micha Elyi On January 12, 2018 @ 7:49 pm

No. 2018 will not be a breakout year for a viable third party.

Those that I see who talk ‘third party’ are bump-on-a-log do-nothings. A tremendous amount of effort by a large, energetic volunteer base is required to lift a third party off the ground. Billionaire Ross Perot tried to do it with a big paid staff. His Reform Party turned into dust and blew away, leaving nothing.

#28 Comment By Micha Elyi On January 12, 2018 @ 7:54 pm

P.S. The same legal obstacles enacted to hamstring the existing political parties are even greater impediments to newer, smaller parties whose activists are less experienced than those of the incumbent parties. Ironically, those legal obstacles were usually championed as The Solution by the same people who today cry “Come, Third Party, save us!” from their armchairs. Among us party-archs, the irony is sweet.

#29 Comment By Phil On January 14, 2018 @ 7:28 pm

The biggest problem is that those entrusted with power have squandered it. Many seem to forget that the common good has less to do with retaining power and more to do with listening, lifting others up and compromising for the sake of the whole-not for party. We had spiraling health care costs before Obama. Problems don’t arise out of a vacuum. Demonizing and wagging fingers don’t solve problems. Business must solve problems to survive. When public institutions like Congress divide over power we all lose. The Solidarity movement seems to want a broad approach bordered by core principals. This is worth considering.

#30 Comment By Dr. Diprospan On January 15, 2018 @ 1:55 pm

Interesting, informative article.
Mr. Burtka III vividly described the issue of dissatisfaction of Americans with
a political system built on the rivalry of the two major parties.
Meanwhile, the party political spectrum of the US is sufficiently wide. It is possible to choose a party for every taste. It would seem. [5]
The 20th century was characterized by a tough confrontation of the ideologies of capitalism, democracy against communism, totalitarianism, powerful scientific and technological development, demographic explosion. Over time, polemic about social justice have become boring, it does not cause as much emotion as before.
Scientific and technological progress, demography, religion is another matter.
In the 21st century, two fundamentally mutually exclusive ideologies were formed.
The first idea fights for life, so that as many people as possible could populate the planet and against what is hindering it.
The second defends the ecology of the planet, advocate for fewer people on the planet and for all that contributes to it.
So, as for ASP, then I do not understand how “the sanctity of human life, necessity of social justice, conservation of the environment, and promotion of a more peaceful world” can mix in one bottle.
One curious detail struck: if you change the letter S to C, you get an ACP – American Conservative Party.
Only a conservative, Christian, enlightened thought can provoke a surge of interest around the world, make a new meaning and pour new life into American society.
The idea is bubbling and hanging on the pages of the American Conservative, but it seems no one has the courage to voice it.
Whatever it was, I think that the revival of the American paleoconservatives will occur at the junction traditional Christian morality, scientific and technological progress and a planetary demographic explosion.