And then there is the ridiculous rule that a Democrat has to run with a Republican or independent, or vice versa. That, of course, means little, since within each party, there are already those who have matching views, and their original label means little. As usual, Friedman is a bit too sanguine and excited about how his group will do what Amazon “did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music,” etc. These items, of course, are commodities — not political parties. The whole operation is rather reminiscent of the ill-conceived “No Labels” movement that got a lot of hype, and which promptly went nowhere.
Yet we learn from today’s Wall Street Journal, from pollsters Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen, both disaffected Democrats who lean conservative on many issues, that America is now in a “prerevolutionary moment,” one in which our countrymen “support…fundamental change in the system” and are “searching beyond the two parties for bold and effective leadership.”
Schoen’s polling company found that a majority of Americans want an alternative to the two-party system, and a majority — 57 percent of respondents — found a need for a third party. They also favored, Schoen says, having a major third party run a presidential candidate, and one in five said they would certainly or most likely vote for that candidate.
I wonder if Schoen and Caddell recall the ballot a year before that critical 1948 election, when Harry S. Truman found himself pitted against the segregationist Dixiecrat ticket of Strom Thurmond and the leftist pro-Communist ticket led by Henry A. Wallace of the aptly named Progressive Party, a Communist front? The polls — albeit not as good as they are today — showed many Democrats on the left hostile to the president, and vowing to throw their support to Wallace’s Progressive Party. Truman had tried to break a major brewing strike by threatening to call in the Army to replace striking workers, and he was not fighting the Taft-Hartley Act that limited labor’s power, although he had vetoed it. Labor got out the message it was fed up with Truman, and would not support him.
Come election day, of course, the only place Wallace got any substantial votes was left-wing union dominated New York City, enabling the state to fall to the Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey — and to deprive Truman of what otherwise would have been a state that always goes Democratic. The rest of the country allowed Truman to win, and the early vows of protest and promises to vote for Henry Wallace meant little.
Nevertheless, Schoen and Caddell say that the Gallup poll as well shows both Republicans and Democrats warm to the idea. Their focus groups of 100 people held around the country found even former Obama voters undecided, and “desperate for a leader who stands outside of the political establishment currently running Washington.” So they, like Friedman, conclude that desperate voters will produce a new third or even fourth party that will be competitive in the 2012 election.
And like Friedman, they say: “Look no further than the recent launch of the centrist, bipartisan, Americans Elect.” They do note that the Tea Party movement is in effect “a quasi-third party already,” having driven the debate over the debt ceiling. But to date, one has not found Tea Party members calling for a third party — and as we know, it would be anything but centrist, but likely even more to the Right than the current Republican Party.
So who will run on the Americans Elect line? They say that Donald Trump is again considering, which is yet more of a joke than his last hint at a run on the Republican ticket. Is this the best the third party crowd can give us? So who would it be? My guess is that Michael Bloomberg, increasingly unpopular as mayor of New York, might want to throw his money into the ring and be its candidate. If so, this hardly talks to the candidate being chosen by the entire country through an internet ballot.
One must also recall that if a candidate to the right or left of the Republican Party does run — let us say a Trump, Bloomberg, or the like — that candidate would be most likely to gain the votes not of Republicans, but of Democrats on the left furious at Obama for betraying them. In other words: assure the Republican victory more than if the third party was not on the ballot. That would be the case also if the candidate that emerges is a Dennis Kucinich, a Ralph Nader, or someone else on the political Left who, again, would gain only left-wing Democrats who feel betrayed.
And the argument also fails to face the possibility that another candidate could enter the Republican race — someone popular with the more moderate conservative politics (especially in style) of a Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, or Mitch Daniels. That might also produce an upset that unseats both frontrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, thereby gaining votes for the ticket that independents might vote for. On the Democratic side, perhaps Hillary Clinton will quit, and wage a primary challenge against Obama. Anything can happen, and in that case, the election is wide open in a new way.
Whatever occurs, a third party could crack apart before it even gets to nominate a candidate. Even Michael Bloomberg’s endless funds, I predict, would not be enough to push Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning voters to cast their ballot for the third party. Sometimes, it is best to simply ignore the enthusiastic bromides of pundits like Tom Friedman.