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.