Rise Of The Third Party?

When I first became interested in politics as a young man, one of the things that bothered me most about our political system was the complete dominance of the two parties. You were either a Republican or you were a Democrat. Sure, you could cast your vote for some other party, assuming there was a suitable candidate. But a vote cast for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party was largely symbolic. Even the most successful party in recent history – the Reform Party – managed a mere 8% of the popular vote in the 1996 presidential election. They did manage to elect a governor, though, so . . . that’s good, I guess.

But even though my youthful enthusiasm for a multi-party political system has waned, I’ve long wondered if I might see a new third party emerge within my lifetime. It’s not without historical precedent. Parties come and go, wax and wane. We don’t have a Whig Party these days. We don’t have a Federalist Party.  The Democratic-Republican Party, oddly enough, split into what eventually became the modern Democratic and Republican Parties (via a detour through Whig Town for the Republicans).

My secret dream has always been that the Green Party would eventually rise up and gain some real teeth in the political process; a longshot, I know, but when you’re an early political idealist, you think just about anything is possible. I’m still holding out for that future, in case anyone is thinking about accusing me of giving up on my dreams.

Laugh if you must.

What I didn’t predict was that our rising third party would be hewn from the fragments of the schismatic and possibly irreparably broken Republican Party:

For nearly 150 years, there was something in America called the Republican Party. It was far from perfect. It often faltered. It made mistakes. But it was predictable; when it was in power, you knew, for the most part, what you were getting.

Cut to now and things look mighty different. The Republican Party today is, as Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein put it, “an insurgent outlier in American politics … ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” But, to borrow the title of Mann and Ornstein’s recent book, it’s even worse than it looks. There’s the Tea Party and then there’s a rump of spineless moderates. The GOP, quite simply, has been split in two.

So, I guess my long-held wish for a third party may be on the verge of fruition. With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing to the Tea Party candidate Eric Brat, it seems like a permanent split between the mainstream Republicans and the Tea Parties might well be here. Or maybe not; it’s a little too early in the primary season to say how this will all shake down.

Maybe Cantor’s defeat is an outlier. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to observe.


One thought on “Rise Of The Third Party?

  1. I probably wouldn’t call this the rise of the third party so much as a realignment of political alliances. I’ve recently been into looking at politics through the lenses of “Patchwork Nation” and “American Nation” and both seem to have something to say about this.

    Patchwork Nations would break the parties up as being two political alliances. On the left you have Campus and Careers, Industrial Metropolis, Minority Central (high black American population), and Monied Burbs. On the right you have Boom Towns (quickly growing populations), Emptying Nests (retirement destinations), Evangelical Epicenters, voting Non-Mexicans in Immigration Nation, Military Bastions (Army base towns), Mormon Outposts, and Tractor country. Service Worker Centers don’t seem to show an allegiance.

    Those alliances have stood for a long time, but there’s always been some tension; tension that’s been increased by the economic hardship of the recession. For example, You may think of Evangelical Epicenters and Tractor Country as being the same thing (the oft chided “Jesusland”), but they are very different and moving in opposite directions. Where Evangelical Epicenters have been becoming more conservative in recent elections, Tractor Country has moved away from the GOP core.

    Through the American nations lens, you have much the same sort of Alliances. On the left you have Left Coast, Yankeedom, New Netherland, and (to a lesser extent) El Norte. On the right you have Far West, Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and (to a lesser extent) Midlands. Also, I think the author left out the very important nation of “New Africa” which are communities made up of descendants of former slaves that were liberated after the Civil War (New Africa is firmly on the Left).

    Power within the parties have been slowly shifting for years. Yankeedom was once the undisputed king of the left, but Left Coast has been slowly moving into the spotlight, and I strongly believe that the focus on environmental and technological issues will make the Left Coast the most influential player in democrat politics for years to come. Likewise, the Deep South was originally the head of the right, Greater Appalachia (with their warlike nature and recently emergent religious zealotry) has been in command for at least a decade.

    The schism in the right looks like an attempt to wrest power from Greater Appalachia, and if I had to pinpoint a nation responsible for it I’d probably point the finger at the Far West. The Far West is to the Left Coast what the Deep South was to Yankeedom, bitter rivals, and if the Left Coast will be the rallying point for the new democratic party, then the Far West seems like the obvious heart of the new republicans.

    Will this adjustment break the old alliances? I’m not sure. The Midlands (as always) are caught in the middle of two political ideologies they don’t quite align with, and the side they fall on will ultimately win a lot of elections as a result. Greater Appalachia probably won’t take their loss of the spotlight kindly, but honestly I think we’ll see them respond by becoming more insular and focused on enacting State and Local laws, while maintaining the old alliances on the national stage. Likewise, El Norte could go either way, and their ultimate allegiance will probably be with the side that fronts the more acceptable immigration policy.

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