Could a third party save America?
Voters deserve far better than the decrepit Democrats and Republicans.
With the presidential race now heating up, the US faces a choice of disastrous proportions. It is shaping up to be an unpopularity contest between Donald Trump – an unstable narcissist – and the doddering, likely corrupt Joe Biden. In fact, three-quarters of Americans think Biden is too old to be re-elected and the majority consider him not mentally up to the job.
Given that the vast majority do not want either of these foolish, dangerous old men to be in power, why not create an alternative party? This was last done successfully in 1854, with the founding of the Republican Party.
The US in 1854 was also deeply divided. At that time, the debate was about slavery, as well as tariffs and growing corporate power. Yet the force of modernity, as Karl Marx recognised at the time, was with the industrialised North, which would go on to crush the agrarian South.
The coalition of the ascendant first came together in 1854 to form the new Republican Party. The Republicans sought to revive the Hamiltonian tradition that had died with the Whigs, who had inherited it from the Federalists. They opposed the Democrats as they became ever more dominated by the interests of plantation owners. In contrast, the Republicans drew support from the industrialists, financiers, mechanics, artisans and independent farmers. Advocates of high protective tariffs and free homesteads for mechanics and farmers, wrote historians Charles and Mary Beard, ‘now mingled with ardent opponents of slavery in the territories’.
At their historic convening in Ripon, Wisconsin, the Republicans adopted a programme that could appeal to a broad spectrum of Americans. They took bold steps to limit slavery’s expansion and also to open new land for small farmers. They supported the growing ranks of American manufacturers and the building of infrastructure to expand the national economy. Abraham Lincoln, before becoming president, had represented railroads in the Midwest.
Today, the preconditions for a new party – and a new mingling of interests – are clearly there. Only 20 per cent of voters rate the economy as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, versus 49 per cent who call it ‘poor’, notes a New York Times / Siena poll. Americans remain overwhelmingly pessimistic about the country’s future. In one recent poll, almost two in five Americans said they would consider voting for a third-party candidate. If that holds, it would be a larger vote share than either of the current deadly duo can muster.
Conservatives may stick with Trump only because they assume that a Biden re-election would be a disaster. Meanwhile, the Democrats seem to be itching to abandon the awful Biden-Harris ticket. Many Democratic insiders, even in the party’s usually docile media arm, suggest that Biden is too old and too poor a candidate to stand again.
Both parties are basically clueless. Democrats are unable to ditch the left’s stupid identitarian dogma and have foisted the hopelessly ineffective Kamala Harris on the country. Meanwhile, Republican nabobs complain about Trump’s electoral weaknesses, but the party’s core base loves Trump, who in turn alienates middle-of-the-road independent voters and suburban women. Big donors are not likely to pony up to support a party that’s fast in danger of becoming the American equivalent of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally or Germany’s AfD.
There is also a deep divide in the Democrats between the former working-class base and the party’s wealthy backers, especially thanks to Biden’s embrace of Net Zero. This super-austerity regime is widely lauded by much of the campaign-funding oligarchy and has made Biden an unlikely darling of the leftist media. But it also points a shotgun at the remnants of the working class, as longtime Democratic analyst Ruy Teixeira and others have demonstrated.
Right now, auto-worker unions are staging the largest strike in the history of the US car industry. Biden has just appeared on the picket line, but the rank and file of the United Auto Workers union are indifferent to his ouvertures. Clearly, the embrace of Net Zero has particularly significant downsides for Democrats.
The economic dislocations today, as in the 1850s, could forge a new class coalition of those whose views do not neatly fit into the categories of left or right, and who are not avidly seeking to be absorbed into the welfare state. These include private-sector professionals, skilled labourers, small-business owners and creative workers whose interests are rarely served by ideologues and corporate lobbyists.
A hypothetical new party could also draw from the expanding ranks of independents, tapping into the intrinsic pragmatism of most suburban and exurban families. They could well take Washington, not in 2024 but potentially beyond that. Dritan Nesho, a pollster from centrist political group No Labels, says that battleground-state polling shows between 60 and 70 per cent of voters in swing states would be open to considering a moderate, independent presidential ticket if the main-party choice is between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
Most Americans want neither MAGA Republicanism nor the identitarian wokeness of the Democrats. Nearly 70 per cent of Americans do not want a Biden-Trump rematch. And only 14 per cent, notes a recent study by More in Common, are either ‘far left’ or ‘far right’, with most being part of ‘an exhausted majority’.
New parties would, of course, face enormous challenges getting on the ballot. The system is designed to protect the existing parties. There have already been attempts in North Carolina by worried Democrats to keep a third party off the ballot in order to save Biden. All, supposedly, in the name of democracy.
If third parties do make it to the ballot, they have some potentially attractive presidential candidates to choose from, such as West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, as well as tech mogul and former 2020 presidential aspirant Andrew Yang.
There may also be some serious funding to go around here, since the still-sentient parts of Wall Street and Silicon Valley know that neither major-party candidate is a good bet for America’s future or theirs. A flood of grassroots cash from the middle class could also be considerable. People may not want a Trumpian regime focussed on enacting revenge, but they are also aware that Joe Biden’s alliance with the progressive left threatens their personal fortunes. Donations to the Democrats at this point in the election cycle already run well below 2020 levels.
Any new party must also connect with the younger generations. Already 50.3 per cent of the current electorate was born after 1983. And these voters have grown increasingly politically independent, notes Real Clear Politics. Only 33 per cent of Baby Boomers consider themselves independent, but over half of millennials and Gen Z self-identify that way.
And then there are the immigrants and minorities, whom many Democrats once saw as their exclusive domain. Minorities make up over 40 per cent of America’s working class and will constitute the majority by 2032. They don’t shape their views by reading party-media megaphones. And when the likes of Paul Krugman in the New York Times insist that the economy is going brilliantly, they certainly don’t take such claims at face value. In its first two years, the Biden administration cost the typical American family over $7,000 in purchasing power, while homeownership affordability – the historic key to upward mobility – is near an all-time low.
This hits both younger and minority voters most. Democratic talking points on issues like gender and race, as well as the implications of Net Zero and inflation, are gradually shifting some of these voters to the right – even though this may not best reflect their economic interests.
Failure of both parties to address issues like inflation, rising crime, poor schools and the threat to livelihoods posed by draconian green policies provides an unprecedented opportunity to reshape our broken system. A new party cannot offer more of the same. Voters have increasingly detached themselves from the political process, with lower voting registration and turnout. They need some sense of competence and pragmatic problem-solving.
A successful third party will not come in the form of the existing Green or Libertarian parties, but one that addresses the issues that actually trouble Americans, like housing, medical care and income growth. It would likely be socially democratic in economics, but moderate in social policy. It would be pragmatic on climate and favour re-industrialisation.
This is the party the US needs. If neither the Democrats nor the Republicans move in this direction, we should, like the Republican founders of 1854, seek a new paradigm that can save our increasingly shaky republic.
Joel Kotkin is a spiked columnist, the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is out now. Follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin
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