There is a perception in this country that a candidate from a third party could never be a viable alternative for the White House. It seems impossible that anyone could break through the political machines of the Republicans and the Democrats. Most believe that voting for a third party equates to “throwing your vote away.” While this certainly annoys those who have voted for independents or third party candidates in the past, there is a stinging truth behind this sentiment. Despite some gains by individual third parties in the 2012 election, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee and the most successful third party candidate received less than 1% of the vote. This lends credence to the notion that votes are being thrown away on third party candidates, adding to the cycle of individuals choosing not to vote for them.
The hard truth that many need to accept is that these political parties will likely never make a significant dent in the election, let alone actually claim the white house. The best they can hope for is to influence the discussion, but even then the difference has been negligible. Playing the spoiler is possible (ask Al Gore), but that tends to lead to even more resentment towards these candidates. There are a multitude of factors that work against each party of these parties, including media bias and an overall lack of funds. However, the key issue that prevents many from voting for a third party is the view that they are on the fringe society, producing only the most extreme of candidates.It seems fair to say that most of the third party candidates do not gain traction for this reason, in that the medial labels them as crazy deviants and outsiders (whether or not it is actually true).
So does this mean it would be impossible for a third party to break through the two-party system run by the Republicans and Democrats? If it were, I likely would not be writing this article. I believe it is not likely, but still possible. If a third party could break through the cracks, I believe it would need to come ideologically from the center-right as opposed the “extremes”. Below I have laid out the platform that I believe would give a third party its best chance to be elected to a significant office.
First, it is important to discuss where the voter base for this phantom party would come from, which would need to be from all ideologies in a way. Certainly the most needed in this regard would be from those who are self identified as moderates or independents. It would be impossible to win an election without them. The next group would come from disgruntled “Rockefeller” style Republicans disillusioned with where the party has been going in recent years. The Republican party is on the edge of destruction following a devastating loss to Barack Obama. One would think some significant changes would have been made following this defeat, but there seems to be no sign of that so far. There were no gains made by the Republicans during the fiscal cliff debate and they proceeded to re-elect John Boehner as Speaker of the House without any real opposition. This alone indicates to me that they are not serious about making a change and therefore are not seriously interested in winning any time soon. Those that defect from the party for this reason will be a large voting block to consider. Finally, those who find themselves on the left with regard to social issues or those classified as Civil Libertarians may also prove as a potential block to bring under this umbrella.
For now, let’s refer to this mythical third party as “Party X”
Winning Political Positions
Taxes & Spending: Party X will need to be fiscally conservative while not appearing to put the needs of the rich ahead of the individual citizen. They will need to communicate that tax hikes should not be given out for some preconceived notion of “fairness”, but through cyclical economic movements if necessary, embracing a mix of Keynesian and Supply-Side economics. The winning issue here is making it a key part of their platform to reform the tax code through eliminating loopholes and making the system easier to understand. This could be done through widening the tax brackets or discussing other new ideas. Personally, I prefer the consumption tax, but I feel as though the public would view it as being too extreme (9-9-9 wasn’t taken seriously). The quasi flat-tax system similar to the one implemented in Utah may be something worth considering. This will likely attract those from the right and the center.
Foreign Policy: Party X would emphasize a more peaceful and less wasteful foreign policy by cutting military spending and closing down a number of our embassies in countries where they are not needed. This will likely attract those from the left as well as libertarians.
Gay Marriage: Party X likely needs to be open to gay marriage, and at the very least civil unions. Gay marriage is going to happen in the future as shown by the recent public opinion towards it growing rapidly over the past several years. Party X needs to be on the right side of this issue. This will attract those from the left, the center, and libertarians.
Abortion: Abortion is a difficult issue, and I am not entirely sure what position would be more beneficial for Party X . I would like to see this issue as being somewhat toned down and not something required of a candidate. I think a pro-life candidate can still win, though a key factor that hurt the Republicans in 2012 was the communication issue. There can be no discussion of “legitimate rape” or the idea that God wills rape. It makes everyone in the party look like idiots and is ludicrous. I think the best strategy would be identifying that Roe v. Wade is decided law, while also working hard toward passing the types of legislation the case dictates is okay, passing limitations on abortion while not advocating for it be outlawed outright. Like gay marriage, abortion is not going to move backwards and it will never be completely illegal. Having a firm hand and a commonsense approach could allow for a position on this issue that would only alienate those who likely would not consider voting for a third party in the first place.
Guns: Guns really only get a great deal of attention after a great tragedy, which is certainly understandable. Party X would be supportive of the second amendment and be opposed to most gun control. Outside of crisis situations, gun control only seems to be an important issue to gun fans, who detest the idea and would not consider voting for a candidate that supports it. The pro gun voters are far more passionate than the anti gun voters. Therefore, the voters Party X would receive by supporting the second amendment outweighs the potential voters lost by supporting it. This would possibly attract those from the right to the party.
Energy: We have an energy problem in this country, and it barely gets any play in the media. Significant gains have not been made toward energy independence by the Republicans or the Democrats, leaving an opening for this party for a common sense approach to energy independence, advocating for new resources while admitting that our oil will run out before long. If a more robust and open policy is adopted, it should attract those from the left and the center.
Immigration: Party X would need to be open toward immigration reform. Many commentators have claimed that if President Bush had been able to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Mitt Romney would have defeated Barack Obama. Whether or not this is actually the case is certainly open for debate, but having an open mind toward immigration reform could attract the Hispanic vote.
Marijuana: There is a strange notion circulating that if you are a supporter of stopping the war on drugs, you are necessarily a druggie. Marijuana should probably be legalized and at some point in the future it will be. In general, it is no more dangerous than alcohol. I am not sure if it would be a good idea to adopt this view, however, as it might lead to a perception that Party X is extreme and consequently treated as a joke, something that needs to be avoided at all costs. If this is adopted, it would likely attract the youth vote at the expense of losing the Christian Right (though they likely would not be on board anyway).
While I think this platform would lead to the most viable contender, it takes more than just political positions to win an election. The most important thing needed for a new party would be a charismatic leader who has already established a good relationship with the media. A large amount of money is also necessary. Above all else, however, is the ability to communicate effectively with people. Ronald Reagan was given the moniker “The Great Communicator” and if you have ever watched any of his speeches you can see why. He was a very conservative candidate and much farther to the right than most Americans. However, he was able to win both of his elections for President in absolute landslides. Reagan was able to communicate with people on a fundamental level and subsequently pulled the electorate toward his ideology. In the same way, a charismatic communicator could pull both those from the left and the right into a new more independent coalition (do not confuse being a good speaker with being a great communicator. Obama is a good speaker a poor communicator).
So who would be the best candidate for leading Party X through a voyage into the political landscape? Two men come to mind for me, both Republicans that have become disillusioned with the party’s current form. I feel as though Jon Huntsman and Colin Powell would be the ideal candidates as leaders of a new party. Jon Huntsman is more likely here, as he has discussed the need for a serious third party to challenge the establishment in the past. Colin Powell is unlikely as it seems to me that his political career is close to wrapped up, though I think he could be successful. I also believe MSNBC’s Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough would be electable, though I’m sure he has said many things on his daily morning talk show that could be used against him. The most realistic of the three, Jon Huntsman has a lot going for him in this regard. He has shown an ability to compromise and believes the Republican Party is going in the wrong direction. He also has a good relationship with the media at the moment (though that could certainly change if the media feels he is a threat to their established candidates), and it also does not hurt that he has a lot of cash. He was an extraordinarily popular governor in Utah, reaching more than 90% approval, showing that he can appeal to those on both sides of the aisle.
While still unlikely, I believe that adopting these views would give a third party their best chance at making a difference and actually winning some key political positions, possibly even the White House one day. It is important to note that this party will have to be concerned with structural stability as well and should have candidates running for every political office possible. To create a long lasting political future, it will be beneficial to be able to point to prior legislative accomplishments in the legislative branch. It also will need a name that doesn’t scream “third party” like Libertarian, Green, or Constitution. If there are any more synonyms for democracy, that might be the way to go.