A group of former Democrats, former Republicans and former independents has come together to launch a third party. Called Forward, it is meant to appeal to all the Americans who are so over both major parties.
If there was ever a time when a third party could gain a following, you might think this would be it. Both of the most likely presidential nominees in 2024, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, have low approval ratings. The bitter polarization of politics, which grates on most Americans, is a product of our two-party system, which gives outsized power to ideological zealots who turn out to vote in primaries.
Forward won't dazzle with star power. Its biggest names are Andrew Yang, who ran for president in the Democratic primaries in 2020, and Christine Todd Whitman, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush.
Who the party might run for president is up in the air, but one possibility is someone who finds herself without a party: Liz Cheney. Despite losing her House reelection primary, she's not planning to go away. "I will do whatever it takes to make sure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office," she said in her concession speech.
The veteran progressive Texas politician and pundit Jim Hightower snarked that the only thing in the middle of the road is yellow stripes and dead armadillos. In fact, it's where all the traffic goes.
In 2020, according to the American National Election Study, 59 percent of voters identified themselves as either moderate, slightly conservative or slightly liberal — centrists, in short. But this majority somehow manages to be a minority in either major party. That helps to explain why 62 percent of Americans agree on the need for another vehicle.
If these voters were to unite to challenge the status quo, they could be a mighty force. But the chances of that happening are slim.
We have some recent experience with third parties that actually have made a difference in presidential elections. They suggest the middle is not the most fertile ground for insurgencies.
George Wallace carried five Southern states in 1968 by exploiting racial and cultural resentments. Ross Perot, who captured 19% of the popular vote in 1992, sounded much like Trump in his appeals to nativism, sneering at elites and vilification of free trade.
John Anderson, a liberal Republican in the days before that species went extinct, took the left lane in 1980, getting seven percent of the vote against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Ralph Nader, nominated in 2000 by the Green Party, ran as the progressive alternative and may have taken enough votes from Democrat Al Gore to elect George W. Bush.
"Third parties require a burning cause or a charismatic leader," presidential historian Richard Norton Smith told me. "It's tough to motivate potential majorities to swamp the polls in the name of moderation, good government or civility."
Cheney may not quite fill the bill of a charismatic leader. And if she hopes to block Trump, the GOP primaries are the best avenue. Even with no chance of winning a dogfight, she could put enough holes in his fuselage to bring him down in the general election — as Patrick Buchanan did to George H.W. Bush in the 1992 GOP race.
If Cheney were to run as a third-party candidate, she would pose a bigger threat to Biden or his successor than to Trump. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found that 16 percent of Republicans say they wouldn't vote for Trump in 2024.
In a two-candidate race, many if not most of them would grit their teeth and cast a ballot for Biden. Offered another option, though, they might go overwhelmingly for Cheney — and some independents and moderate Democrats could join them. Trump would have a good chance to win with an even smaller slice of the popular vote than he got in his previous campaigns.
Given the GOP's capture by people who worship Trump, excuse insurrection, reject the rule of law and accept election results only when they win, a third party is a dangerous proposition. The critical task is to defeat Trump and his confederates.
In a campaign speech Wednesday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker called on "the coalition of the sane" to unite against Trumpian extremism. In the 2024 election, that coalition will have only one option, and it's not a third party.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.
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