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How a Third Party Could Work

October 18th, 2010 at 2:54 pm David Frum | 34 Comments |

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Toward the end of our podcast interview, Republican ad genius Mark McKinnon drops a tantalizing hint. He suggests that this cycle, Third Party talk may turn out to be more than just talk.

By a funny coincidence, I heard the same thing last week from a senior Republican congressional figure. A couple of weeks previous, a big Democratic donor suggested the same thing over breakfast.

Tom Friedman of the New York Times wrote a column at the beginning of October that reported similar murmurings.

I know of at least two serious groups, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, developing “third parties” to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline.

Interestingly, the discontent seems even more acute among conservative Democrats than among moderate Republicans. Conservative Democrats wanted a return to the Clinton approach: business-friendly government and balanced budgets. They are aghast at what they got instead. Moderate Republicans like McKinnon, by contrast, seem less offended by their party’s policies than by its extremist spokespersons and divisive political methods.

It’s easy to imagine these two groups getting together. But to become a national force, they need something more than disgust at “politics as usual” – something more than concern over (admittedly important!) long-term challenges like energy and deficits and infrastructure.

The great domestic political fact of our time is the failure of the U.S. economy to deliver for the bottom 4/5th of American income-earners. Even before the crash, these people had heard no good news from their national government in almost a decade. Now of course they are cast into the worst distress and most acute anxiety since World War II.

They are waiting for someone to champion them. Democrats promise much, but have delivered little. Republicans hardly seem to remember them at all. And while people who talk third party are rightly fed up with the defects of the two big parties, most third party talkers have nothing to offer the bottom 4/5 but higher taxes, lower benefits, sacrifice, patience and a promise that things will improve in a decade or two.

The reason there’s an opening between the two parties is precisely that the parties are failing to meet the needs of most Americans. Filling that opening with a third party that equally fails to meet the needs of most Americans will accomplish precisely nothing.

Big Democratic donors and leading Republican thinkers have good reason to feel disgust with their parties’ current performances. But to create a credible alternative, alienated Democrats and Republicans will have to rally around reforms that can make a positive difference to the great American majority – beginning with realistic ideas to accelerate economic growth, generate jobs, and raise incomes. That’s the abandoned ground of American politics, the true No Man’s Land. But there’s no need to wait for a third party to claim that ground. It’s there, waiting, for a Republican party that can liberate itself from the screamers and the haters, and rediscover its tradition of affirmative governance.

FrumForum’s exclusive interview with Mark McKinnon.

Recent Posts by David Frum



34 Comments so far ↓

  • MurrayAbraham

    No-one would be more pleased to see a third party (and why not a forth and fifth) than me. The prospect of neither the GOP nor the Dems being able to secure a majority in Congress and hence giving enormous influence to smaller parties is something I would relish in. I must however confess that over time I have ceased to believe in this eventuality.

    If there is one thing both parties agree upon it is to keep the political landscape divided in two camps so as to maximize revenue for each. (BTW, your recent pledge to remove caps on Party spending for candidates in House and Senate races implicitly favors the big parties.)

    Even your stance, i.e wanting to reform a party that has rejected you, works against the emergence of new parties. Well gone seem the days where rejected Wigs and Democrats formed the Republican party.

    P.S: Life would be so much easier if the Dems split into a Liberal party and a Conservative Democratic party, and the GOP split into a Socially Progressive Party a la Teddy Roosevelt and a Socially Conservative Party. We could perfectly adopt a two round electoral process, like France does, to accommodate the large number of candidates.

  • Joe In NH

    A third party sounds good but there are structural impediments that are fatal and I am talking about more than getting on the ballot. We are one of the few Western democracies without major third parties and one of the few where one just has to get the plurality of votes and not a majority of votes,ie,there are no run-off elections. I think there is a cause and effect here. Without run-off elections or something similar such as weighted voting as found in Australia, people will tell pollsters they support a third party candidate but will then vote for one of the two established parties on election day. If you are sure that a candidate from the established parties who you see as the lesser evil will be elected then you will vote for the third party candidate as a protest but otherwise you hold your nose and vote for one of the two established party candidates as the lesser of two evils and not risk seeing the more undesirable candidate elected.

    Absent run-off elections it is hard to see a viable three party system.

  • JeninCT

    The only way I see a third party working is if a popular national candidate were to start a third party as a run for president. Even then it would splinter either the R or D voting block.

    The better idea is for one party or the other to reform itself in a meaningful way.

  • sinz54

    A third party candidate cannot win a Presidential election.

    The “winner-take-all” rule that most states have–win just a plurality (not a majority) of popular vote and you win all that state’s Electoral Votes–means that a third party will be effectively neutralized. (In 1992, Ross Perot’s Reform Party got 19% of the popular vote–a respectable showing for a brand new fledgling party–but ZERO electoral votes. And that was the end of the Reform Party.) As a result, a third party can never get off the ground, unless they win a landslide in their very first try at campaigning, which is nearly impossible.

    That said, even unsuccessful third parties have had an effect on American history: They can raise voters’ consciousness about issues they care strongly about. Again, look at 1992. Ross Perot raised the issue of the skyrocketing national debt. He didn’t come close to winning. But in three-way public debates with Clinton and Bush Senior, he got that issue to the floor–and by 2000, the Dems and Repubs had together passed balanced budgets that even ran surpluses.

  • Cforchange

    This is the best news I’ve heard all day.

    Don’t you think we’ve waited long enough for meaninful party reform – look right. If the GOP were mending itself to competance, don’t you think they would be looking to the bright like C Whitman for a direction. If you’ve been a GOP member for only a decade or so – you should check out her achievements. That’s how smart the party used to be.
    There are lots and lots of sidelined members all to appease a certain few. If you think the majority like to hear nonstop about what Ms Palin thinks, you are very wrong. We’re freaking out mad.

    Please add C Whitman to the list of possible idependent options.

  • jjv

    If there is a third party I hope its liberal leaning. Does anybody remember John Anderson? Isn’t he exactly the type of guy who we are talking about? I remember the old Doonseberry’s with Mike following him around. Would it get more than Perot’s 19%? Would it hurt Democrats or Republicans and where?

  • Oldskool

    The most effective thing we could do is “accidentally” send drones over Fox News. It’s hard to imagine that anything responsible is ever going to happen as long as they’re around.

    Lindsey Graham was quoted as saying his work with Dems on a particular bill would have to be speedy because he knew it would be torpedoed as soon as Fox learned about it.

  • mpolito

    McKinnon’s set of policies are not winners. Has he ever spoken to regular GOP voters, rather than a bunch of D.C. types? He says he is not a deep thinker, and with all due respect, he is not kidding. The whole abortion debate revolves around whether or not the entity inside the womb is a human or not. If it is, obviously the government should protect it, unless you think homicide is okay. So to say it is “inconsistent” is highly dubious. Furthermore, McKinnon does not address foreign policy, where “interventionism” (which David supports) violates what Mark understands as “conservative principles” just as much as social conservatism. If the government should not play a role in marriage, does he support letting three people marry? If not, why not? How does he square that circle? His claims to a conservative philosophical inconsistency are extremely weak.

    The politics of the issues make no stronger a case. Until a male-female marriage measure is actually defeated in a purple state, the GOP should not even entertain the possibly of ditching it’s support for traditional marriage. Some of the 10 most conservative states (SC, GA, AL, MS, TN, KY, AR, OK, TX, LA), which contain about 20% of the U.S. population, voted on average 75% for their marriage amendments. The city of San Francisco voted slightly less against traditional marriage. Opposition is much more widespread than support, and we should not alienate our base by pandering to win invisible voters. As for abortion, which voters are we going to win? Do you think NOW will begin to support the GOP if we pander on abortion? McKinnon’s policies are a recipe for electoral defeat.

  • midcon

    I hate to bring this up, but for all those who are concerned about the GOP base…well…that’s all there is. Just about everyone else has left the GOP and those other than the base are simply so-called RINOs which the base is eagerly kicking out. The “invisible voters” are now independents, without which any candidate nominated by the “base” could not win except through significant jerrymandering.

  • easton

    Conservative Democrats wanted a return to the Clinton approach: business-friendly government and balanced budgets. They are aghast at what they got instead.

    Please, name some of these Conservative Democrats. I am a Conservative Democrat and you can’t tell me an administration dominated by Summers, Geithner, and Volcker is populist economically.
    Bayh is not Conservative, he is feckless.

    They are waiting for someone to champion them. Democrats promise much, but have delivered little.

    Huh? So health care reform, s-chip increases, the Lilly Ledbetter act, EITC, stabilization of the economy after the Bushies shot it full of holes this is little?

    There is no 3rd party candidate in the middle that can draw anything, the point of being in the middle is to be sensible and not throw away your vote on someone that can’t win, but instead to choose a party and try to moderate it. And who would these people be? Bloomberg? He couldn’t win NYC much less the country and being his base is ultra liberal NYC we can see how much he can branch out from there. It didn’t help Guiliani any.

    The only 3rd party candidate that can draw would be Palin on the far right, but I don’t see that. Granted, I imagine she thinks the nomination should be handed to her but if she were to lose the Republican primaries (if she does run) I can’t see her pissing away her future earning power by guaranteeing a Democratic victory.

  • Saladdin

    No third party candidate would be viable. E.g. Bloomberg would only run if the GOP picks a remarkably polarizing figure (for example Palin). Bloomberg would then take from the GOP who vote moderate, leading to an easy Obama win.

    The following election, one of the either 2 major party candidates will incorporate ideas from the third party group… (Southern strategy by Nixon and Reagan brought in the disaffected Democrats – Dixiecrats if you will). Therefore, the GOP will end up engulfing the tea party. Thus is the history of US politics, and this will not change.

  • Rabiner

    CforChange:

    “Please add C Whitman to the list of possible idependent options.”

    Who is C Whitman? I know who Meg Whitman is and she isn’t viable nationwide as a moderate Republican if she can’t even win in this climate for CA governor.

    Mpolito:

    “The politics of the issues make no stronger a case. Until a male-female marriage measure is actually defeated in a purple state, the GOP should not even entertain the possibly of ditching it’s support for traditional marriage. Some of the 10 most conservative states (SC, GA, AL, MS, TN, KY, AR, OK, TX, LA), which contain about 20% of the U.S. population, voted on average 75% for their marriage amendments. The city of San Francisco voted slightly less against traditional marriage. Opposition is much more widespread than support, and we should not alienate our base by pandering to win invisible voters.”

    You talk about electoral defeat. Now are any of those 10 states remotely going to go Democrat anytime soon regardless of the same-sex marriage issue? All that issue does is alienate the next generation of voters who don’t reflexively dislike homosexuals.

  • mpolito

    Rabiner: let’s talk about state that will vote for Democrats, then. I’ll give you two: Ohio and Florida. Both voted for Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008; they were the most important states in the 2004 and 2000 elections, respectively; and they are the most purple states in the country because they demographically line up with the country as a whole. In 2004, Ohioans approved their marriage amendment by 62-38: a comfortable margin, I’d say. It lost in only one county. In 2008, while the state was voting for Obama, Floridians voted for their marriage amendment by the exact same margin. It didn’t lose a single county. These are states Democrats have won in and are by no means “conservative” states. This is where the ‘center’ of the country is. That’s why McKinnon’s prescriptions make no sense.

  • Krom

    There’s a very sizable contingent of clueless idiots aligned with the GOP who don’t give a shit about effective government anyway, because they’ve been successfully brainwashed into believing that the government has no role in anything except subjugating brown people. My guess is they wouldn’t pull that many there. And for the most part, this Democratic president is level-headed and fairly practical, so I’m somewhat skeptical that too many former supporters would be driven to switch beyond a certain element of the “why isn’t everything fixed yet??” crowd (which depending on the situation over the next two years could swing either way).

    So which party would a centrist third contender pull more from? I’d like to believe the GOP, on the grounds that the party has lost its collective mind and I’m hopeful that at least some of its supporters have caught on to that.

  • midcon

    The majority of the disaffected seem to Republicans. My guess is that it would be the GOP that a 3rd party pulls from. Have to have the right candidate though – some that galvanizes the nation as well as looking and acting presidential – sort of the opposite of Ross Perot.

  • Rabiner

    Mpolito:

    “et’s talk about state that will vote for Democrats, then. I’ll give you two: Ohio and Florida. Both voted for Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008; they were the most important states in the 2004 and 2000 elections, respectively; and they are the most purple states in the country because they demographically line up with the country as a whole. In 2004, Ohioans approved their marriage amendment by 62-38: a comfortable margin, I’d say. It lost in only one county. In 2008, while the state was voting for Obama, Floridians voted for their marriage amendment by the exact same margin. It didn’t lose a single county. These are states Democrats have won in and are by no means “conservative” states. This is where the ‘center’ of the country is. That’s why McKinnon’s prescriptions make no sense.”

    Consider those two things. Both states had anti-same sex marriage propositions in two separate elections. The only thing that both of those elections proved is that old people still don’t like gay people. It had ZERO baring on the outcome of the State going Republican or Democrat or Florida under your theory should of gone for McCain. Hence why its pointless to follow a position that may be followed by a majority of the population in 2010 but won’t be in 2020 since all those supporters will be dying off between now and then.

  • JeninCT

    C Whitman is Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and then cabinet member for Bush, don’t remember which post, though.

  • balconesfault

    That would have been EPA head.

  • CD-Host

    So which party would a centrist third contender pull more from? I’d like to believe the GOP, on the grounds that the party has lost its collective mind and I’m hopeful that at least some of its supporters have caught on to that.

    Well I think the group that he wants to pull from are Liberal republicans. 40% of liberals consider themselves independents and vote for Dems 8% of the time. As of 2005 Moderate Republicans were still OK with the party but we will have to see how the anti-RINO stuff plays out: 56% consider themselves independents but they vote for Republicans 73% of the time.

    Those are the groups I think he is aiming for. That’s about 11% of the population where does the extra 40% of the population come from?

    The group of voters who don’t reliable vote Republican that like the Tea Party are disaffected voters.
    They are low education male voters social moderate economically conservative. Their conservatism comes out of a belief that the government is fixed against them and only wants to help other groups (if they are hispanic it wants to help blacks but doesn’t do anything for hispanics…). They love the anger and the extremism. They would love it to go much further. That’s the big group of independents the GOP is picking up.

    I still don’t get how this group’s interests are not pretty well served by either the Democrats. They don’t seem different enough from what Obama is looking to do. This is the thing I don’t get. We have a liberal Republican president right now. I understand why David Frum is staying within the Republicans but if you are willing to step outside the Republican party why not support Obama and argue for minor changes?

  • DirtyLibrul

    If this actually happened one would have to give the Tea Party some credit for it happening (*albeit by no “intelligent design” on their part).

    It’s obviously a long-shot, and if it happened it would be the ONE good thing to come from the Tea Baggin’ movement.

  • Rabiner

    JeninCT:

    “C Whitman is Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and then cabinet member for Bush, don’t remember which post, though.”

    Thanks, just had never seen someone just use her first initial with last name when referring to her. Always used the full name. She had a falling out with Bush when she was head of EPA if I recall.

  • Rabiner

    Cd-Host:

    What I see happening if Bloomberg ran was he’d finish second in the West and Northeast and third everywhere else.

  • CD-Host

    Rabiner –

    She was a moderate on environmental issues. So for example she came out in favor of controls on global warming. She also disagreed with Cheney on pollution controls. On the downside she may or may not have been involved in a deliberate coverup about health effect of 9/11. No way does she run for office without answering a lot more questions about that. She wrote a book about trying to bring back a moderate Republicanism ( http://www.amazon.com/Its-My-Party-Too-America/dp/1594200408) founded IMP-PAC which advanced: a ton of the socially liberal Republican groups.

    She was one of the those names thrown around all the time; Bush and McCain both considered her for VP. She’s experienced, qualified, smart known and liked in the North East and thus could carry a lot of North Eastern states (which for a Republican is saying a lot). She and the Christian coalition have gone at it hard so assuming you could wrap up the religious right early in the campaign….

    Here is her website: http://www.republican-leadership.com/

    Given this president I don’t see any reason for a Whitman type 3rd party the Democrats are just too close on policy.

    What I see happening if Bloomberg ran was he’d finish second in the West and Northeast and third everywhere else.

    Wow, that would be terrific for a 3rd party to even accomplish that. But again same thing. Bloomberg and Obama are too close for this to make sense. There is one big whole so-con econ-lib.

  • mpolito

    Rabiner: the point is that political parties have to position themselves based on where the country is. McKinnon’s proposals do not indicate any apparent grasp of where the country is. When David pointed out to him that “the people who study these things [polls]” seem to think that the country is getting more anti-abortion, he then reverts to ‘principle,’ saying that the government should not be doing that, etc. If you’re going to argue based on polls, do so. If you’re going to argue based on principle, do so. But don’t act like you are arguing based on ‘political neccesity’ and then when this neccesity is demonstrated to be fabricated return to ‘principle.’ It is a squalid move.

  • Else Jaffe

    I think 3rd Party success is more likely now than ever, so I support Mac’s efforts.

    I’m a registered Conservative, not a Republican.

    I’m not in favor of gay marriage. Unpleasant details aside, I think it’s a mistake and that mistake will play out in messy fashion in the lower class in a couple of generations. But, I could be wrong. Maybe the raising of homosexual union to parity with heterosexual union will be well-ordered, seamless and good. And heterosexuals threw marriage away. If it really meant for life, I don’t believe gays would consider it the hill to die on. And since the vows are a frippery of sort, perhaps there’s really no need for concern. I wonder what aspects surrounding the issue Mr. Frum had to make his peace with?

    The destruction of one’s offspring -I think that’s how the Oxford dictionary describes abortion- is really not embraced by electorate, that’s why it identifies as pro-life. The loophole it wants, though, in case of ‘emergency’ is what will keep abortions, safe, legal but never rare. A convenience is a convenience, after all. Don’t raise it to a right, protect it and then expect to abolish it. It’s not going to happen. The offspring begins as trespasser and will end as such. Camille Paglia is honest enough to admit this, and I can live and work with honest people.

    Something is structurally off economically. I’m not sufficiently informed to identify what that is, but Stockman, a man whose opinion I trust, does not locate the strain in the last 10 years. He takes a much broader view, which makes sense to me. And even Obama’s disdain for the bitter clingers notes a period of 25 years leading up to the bitter clinging.

    CD-Host, whose posts are informed, fair and good to read subscribes to the idea that the broad left enjoys weak support by the vast majority of people. This weak support means the incapacity to grasp firmly or the tendency to release quickly. That’s significant as it’s weighed against strong ‘hedgehog’ support.

    He wonders why the low-education voter isn’t in the thrall of democrats in general and this President in particular (though he did get 63% of the high school drop-out vote). I think I know the answer. It’s Country. CD’s own site gives my take a bit of the nod as he searches for an expression of patriotism he can feel comfortable with.

    Unfortunately or nor, depending on your point of view, Country is desired by the vast majority the way food and the quest for God is.

    President Obama and the democrats can’t speak to the vast majority here. They’re a different type whose language is at odds with this vast majority. A hyper-rationalism that pilfers from the Tao without attribution leads them to hawk something unknown and unwanted.

    From Fr. Alexander Schmemann and his interpretation of Solzhenitsyn’s In August of 1914, in particular the decision by pacifist Isaakii to join the Russian Army during WW I.

    Isaakii says he ‘feels sorry for Russia’ and Fr. Schmemann tells us why and what that means:

    because Russia is and because she and not another country is his motherland granted him like the sun and the air because she is his home and body and no one can be without these.

  • Nick D

    As an outside observer I am interested in the possible plurality of US politics. In the UK, while having a Coalition Government is radically new, the decline in dominance of the two main parties is not. In the 1951 election Conservatives got 48% of the vote, Labour 47% and Libs 4%. In 2010 Conservatives got 36%, Labour 29% and Lib’s 23% and other 12%. This trend can also be observed in other European countries.

    Could a third, or fourth party develop in the US? If not, in the land of individual choice and information overload, why not? Will the Tea Party be the catalyst for this happening?
    I know that the electoral college system makes it difficult for new parties to establish themselves buy surely strong cultural forces can override this.

  • CD-Host

    Could a third, or fourth party develop in the US? If not, in the land of individual choice and information overload, why not? Will the Tea Party be the catalyst for this happening?
    I know that the electoral college system makes it difficult for new parties to establish themselves buy surely strong cultural forces can override this.

    The electoral college only applies to the presidential election. And it doesn’t have that much effect in terms of 3rd parties.

    We have multiple 3rd parties that have been around for decades. They just lose consistently with a low percentage of the vote, in most cases. The main reason is plurality voting, it is simply unsafe to vote for a 3rd party candidate until they poll high. George Bush became president in 200o because Ralph Nadar got 2.74% in a protest by liberals about how conservative the Clinton administration had been. A even more stark example was the election of 1860 when the pro slavery forces split their votes 3 ways and an anti slavery radical won with only 40% leading to the civil war. The election of 1912 is another classic example where the 2 Republican like parties split the vote and Democrat won.

    And that is the way the system is designed to work it brutally punishes parties that have trouble maintaining broad coalitions. The Tea Party represents a much larger group of voters than McKinnon does, and even they are nowhere near large enough to form a 3rd party. Now I’ve been an advocate they could get big enough to win, but they have to be able to gut the existing parties to do it. Our system is designed to force compromise and moderation structurally. What’s happening to moderate Republicans, where they are being forced to pick the lesser of two evils and thus forcing both parties to start appealing to them, is exactly the way the system is designed to work.

  • Cforchange

    Rabiner, that would be Christie Todd Whitman. New Jersey’s govenor throughout the 1990′s – David is pitching her book there at the right where she declares like most responder’s here that it’s her party too.

    Check out Republican-leadership.com.

    Wow – her name not having instant recognition sums up the party woes. Maybe if she were the candidate for at least the 2008 VP choice we wouldn’t be whining here. There is no rational logic for why CT Whitman was side stepped. That is until you consider she is firmly pro choice – see the tent had already been downsized. For years the GOP has been overlooking the very competant to appease. Going for lipstick and high heels , also indicates that they don’t accept or recognize how dire the economy really is.
    If the number one issue were the economy – my vote would be for CT Whitman not half term, simple state Palin or her DE clone. There are very competant loyal Republican’s – the question should be why doesn’t the GOP put forth the very best? Best meaning math and leadership.

  • Stewardship

    Moderate Republicanism is more closely aligned with a majority of the country. The problem would be to get conservative Democrats and all of the newly minted Independents to gather under a big tent with the Republican label. Hence, a well-thought out third party could attract one-third of the electorate, including moderate R’s.

    Whether the third party could win the first time out of the gate, I don’t know. But, it would force the Dems and Reps to come to the middle.

    The story of the 2010 midterms (the pollsters and slicers and dicers will tell us in the post mortem) will be how the vast middle swath of the political spectrum swung to the right in abhorrence of how Obama, Pelosi, and Reid have governed.

    Had Obama walked his talk (worked and back Sen. Graham on energy, for example) we’d have accomplished strong, lasting bi-partisan legislation supported by a majority of Americans. Instead, he deferred to the far left of his party, did not lead. Reminds me of the Biblical parable of sowing seeds on rock…Obama is reaping what he sowed…nada.

    Interestingly, 2012 is the centennial of Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose run.

  • CD-Host

    Else –

    Great post. I’d love to hear more about your idea regarding country and Democrats. It certainly is the case that I don’t like the Democratic party though I agree with their positions and I haven’t been able to figure out why. I’m glad you liked the Odes article.

    I wonder what aspects surrounding the issue [of gay marriage] Mr. Frum had to make his peace with?

    I can’t answer for Frum but I also had to make peace with the issue. I always supported domestic partnerships and still much prefer the idea that the government simply stop “marrying” people and instead form legal domestic partnerships. IMHO conservatives are absolutely 100% correct when they are argue that marriage is fundamental to raising children properly and that the state is undermining it not supporting it in the last 2 generations. A perfect example being child support laws that make divorce and illegitimacy have much lower consequences than they should.

    Gay marriage because it unable to produce legitimate progeny struck me as ridiculous. What I was getting hung up on was the word marriage, which has strong cultural ties. But legally at this point means little more than legal concubinage. And gay marriage is certainly equal valid to what we have now for straight people. What changed my mind was an unwillingness on the part of other people who saw marriage as being about children to offer a fair and valid alternative for gay couples and to really address the marriage crisis in a meaningful way. I became convinced that opposition to gay marriage was primarily opposition to gay sex and that I could never support. Moreover, while I support laws to strengthen marriage, I’m unable to think of how gays would in any ways “get in the way” on those.

  • Carney

    Wouldn’t Frum be the first to bash 3rd party talk from Tea Party types as irresponsible, guaranteed to elect the Left, etc.?

  • DFL

    Nick, third parties can’t get off the ground in America for a variety of reasons, the major ones being the fundraising prowess of the two main parties, the structural organizational advantages of the two major parties, the first-past-the-post election system, and the inertia of the American electorate in relationship to the two-party system. Think about self-financed Ross Perot’s run for president in 1992. He had a lot of money, a lot of charisma, and George HW Bush was disliked by many voters who had voted for Bush and Reagan in the 1980s. Perot won 19 % of the vote in 1992, 8 % in 1996 and withdrew from politics. His Reform Party collapsed to insignificance.

    The only other somewhat successful Third Party runs for president in the last fifty years were George Wallace’s 13 % in 1968, John Anderson’s 6 % in 1980, and Ralph Nader’s 3 % in 2000. Wallace’s run was essentially a protest against the judicially imposed end of segregation in the 60s. Wallace’s voters were gradually absorbed by the Republicans and segregation is no longer a political issue. Anderson’s support came mostly from what Michael Barone might call “gentry liberals” who turned their backs on Jimmy Carter and a scattering of liberal Republicans (Anderson did best in New England). Anderson’s voters returned to their roots with the election of Reagan and Anderson is but a curious, obscure afterthought in American political history. Nader’s vote was largely a protest against the perceived centrism of the Clinton/Gore Administration. The onset of the Bush Administration repelled the Nader voters and they shot back to the Democratic Party.

    Since the formation of the Republican Party in 1854, the USA has had largely a two-party system. Since then there have been third parties but these parties have always been absorbed by one or both of the two main parties usually after the main parties adopted some of the programs of the third parties.

  • jg bennet

    The Republican Party was once a third party ……They came, they saw, they argued, they agreed and they damn sure conquered…….

    It could work because it has before…

    The Republican Party name was christened in an editorial written by New York newspaper magnate Horace Greeley.

    Greeley printed in June 1854: “We should not care much whether those thus united (against slavery) were designated ‘Whig,’ ‘Free Democrat’ or something else; though we think some simple name like ‘Republican’ would more fitly designate those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty rather than propagandist of slavery.”

    The elections of 1854 saw the Republicans take Michigan and make advances in many states, but this election was dominated by the emergence of the short-lived American (or ‘Know-Nothing’) Party.

    By 1855, the Republican Party controlled a majority in the House of Representatives.

    The new Party decided to hold an organizing convention in Pittsburgh in early 1856, leading up to the Philadelphia convention.

    As the convention approached, things came to a head — and to blows.

    On the floor of the Senate Democratic representatives Preston Brooks and Lawrence Keitt (South Carolina) brutally attacked Charles Sumner (Republican once Democrat) with a cane after Sumner gave a passionate anti-slavery speech which Brooks took offense (he was related to the main antagonist of Sumner’s speech, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler).

    Both representatives resigned from Congress with severe indignation over their ouster, but were returned to Congress by South Carolina voters in the next year. Sumner was not able to return to the Congressional halls for four years after the attack.

    Brooks was heard boasting “Next time I will have to kill him,” as he left the Senate floor after the attack.

  • balconesfault

    Brooks was heard boasting “Next time I will have to kill him,” as he left the Senate floor after the attack.

    But I’ll bet even Brooks never considered screaming “You Lie” during a Presidential speech.