Commentary: Breaking the Two Party System
Democrats and Republicans repent. Some pundits predict the parties are over. A friend from Alabama sent me a link from something called theconservativetreehouse.com. A writer at the site is promoting Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination for President. Not because the writer is pining for Trump. No, because the author believes Trump will push an ossified organization out of the way and usher in an era of multiple choice on Election Day. The people who talk about “our two party” system are obviously aware there isn’t any mention of political parties in the Constitution. Many among the founders despised organized political camps. Although, without parties you would see a great many people like Trump slugging it out on their own. Maybe it’s the direction we’re headed. Mass media certainly freed candidates from back room deal making by party bosses.
When Abe Lincoln won election in 1860 my textbooks explained he beat Stephen Douglas. There were actually four major candidates in the last Presidential contest before the Civil War. They gave Americans four options during a time of great crisis. Most people today don’t much argue the outcome but for a handful who still are fighting what they call, “The lost cause”.
Another friend wrote me last week from New York and complained about today’s choices. There are nearly two dozen candidates between two parties who believe they’ve got what it takes to be President. Most will be gone in six months. We talked about other options and I referenced the lesser known Constitution Party. He then made an observation about the so-called “third parties”. Most attempt to build from the top down. There have been socialists and communists and greens and libertarians and Christians creating parties throughout every election cycle in my lifetime. They generally select a candidate for President, give him or her a few hundred dollars and a ballot line and then expect a miracle. The underfunded candidates beg for radio time from people like me and occasionally a guy in Sheboygan will adopt a personality for known or unknown reasons and a few hundred people in Wisconsin roll the dice and vote for the Liberal Unification Stone Throwers Party. And the anomaly goes unnoticed until four years later the party’s current sacrifice figures he can at least get radio time at Newsradio 1620 in Wisconsin. These people need to build! Block-by-block. It’s slow and tedious but apparently is the only real path to success. Or get someone like Trump to headline the ballot.
In 1994 New York State’s Libertarian Party selected Howard Stern as a nominee for Governor. As Libertarian candidates go the radio host did well and some of his arguments about road construction later became official policy. By 1996 the party slipped back into obscurity. Had Stern actually won the next question would be how do you govern when you’re all alone? There are more than 150 state legislators in Albany. To my knowledge none have a desire to cooperate with the Libertarians. So, yes, party building is a slow generational process and requires far more constant care than a summer garden.
The Daily Signal carried this story last week and suggests sometimes hostile takeovers of larger parties remains the best course. A couple of thoughts about long term success: Consider the Tea Party. Used, abused and discarded by greedy Republican leaders. Again, see the link at the top of the column. Number two, conservatives and Republicans aren’t the same species. I’ve a large portrait of Ronald Reagan I received as a gift from one of the county chapters of the New York State Conservative Party. It hangs prominently in one of my offices. Reagan was a Republican by default as he had few other options in California and nationally. Today the 17 candidates seeking the nomination he twice wrestled from party bosses invoke his name as if it’s an incantation. In one of the books on my shelves there is a picture of the last Czar of Russia on horseback and holding an icon before his genuflecting troops. Then his army went forward and was ground to pieces. It wasn’t long before some underground political parties took down the Czar and eventually after battling between themselves one of the parties took over his empire.
This isn’t a recommendation for a communist takeover but historians note the Bolsheviks had been building local structures from village-to-village for decades and finally a catalyst and catastrophe of epic proportion, World War One, brought the party from the shadows.
In our country the Civil War elevated Republicans who had been building in small towns across the Northeast and what is now called the Midwest for less than a decade. The Great Depression briefly elevated the profiles of communists, socialists and nativists. These are some historical events related to recurring crises. The advantage of the next political wave belongs to the patient and skilled organizers.