Adam’s Blog

That’s my thing, keepin’ the faith, baby. –Joe Friday

The Case Against Third Parties

Posted by Adam Graham on August 22, 2003

In my last column I laid out a case that the current Republican leadership has failed us in key ways and is taking part in a bipartisan effort to lead our country to the brink of bankruptcy.

In the wake of such declarations, many people will conclude the only option for conservatives is to join a third party. However, the third party option is little more than a destructive waste of time as proven by more than thirty years of trial and error.

I must begin this article with a proviso. There are many good people involved in third parties. There are few men finer than the Constitution Party’s Rick Jore, I found Libertarian Party members such as PeoplesForum.com CEO Lance Brown and 2002 Flathead County Sheriff Candidate Larry “Chance” Chezem to be engaging men with good ideas. In no way, is this intended as a personal attack on members of third parties. It doesn’t however pull punches in providing truth and reality to third parties.

In this article, I will address why third parties have failed and why they’ll continue to be an ineffectual part of the American political community for the foreseeable future.

1) Third Parties are Parasites: By this I mean that third parties draw a large number of their members from the Republican Party. The Constitution Party’s membership and growth from established Republican voters. It is here that their logic falls apart. The Constitution Party argues that it will push needed reforms that the Republicans won’t, but they’ll do what the Republican party is able to do by getting most principled members of the GOP to their cause. Basically they’re pledging to do more than the GOP does with less than the GOP has.

How is the Constitution Party reaching out to non-voting Evangelicals the most powerful group of potential voters in the country? You won’t find it on the website, nor will you find any serious efforts to bring non-traditional voters to the process. What you have, rather is an attempt to suck activists from the GOP.

Libertarians have done somewhat of a better job, but still have not found an effective strategy for reaching the millions of Americans who want the government out of their lives.

2) The Party That Didn’t Shoot Straight: The Libertarians and the Constitution Party are in a constant “building mode” and any candidate is embraced as a chance for the party to “build for the future”, regardless of whether the candidate’s presence is helpful or not. They will challenge and hurt the candidates who are the best friends of their positions in politics. While the votes of the people do not belong to politicians, it seems some third party candidates run campaigns that can only be described as “ego trips” against candidates who line up with their positions.

Bob Dornan lost by less than a thousand votes due to vote fraud in 1996. At the next year’s National Right-to-Life rally where Dornan is an annual speaker. Dornan was upset, not by vote fraud but by an Operation Rescue leader who challenged one of the top 3 pro-life leaders in congress and scored 3500 votes. Randall Terry apologized but the damage was done.

Dennis Rehberg is part of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a friend of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), and a strong advocate for limited government and property rights. Do you think the Libertarians would give him a pass? Not a chance. In 2002, Mike Fellows ran against him but thankfully Rehberg easily defeated him and nutjob Steve Kelly (D) to win re-election.

Third Party candidates can be helpful. Peg Luksik gave pro-lifers a vote of conscience in choices between the lesser of two evils in 1994 and 1998, but oftentimes third party campaigns are often as pointless as the candidates themselves.

3) Third Parties Don’t Get It: The Constitution and Libertarian Parties exist in the hopes that some day things will get better. However, American political history paints a clear picture. Parties do not come to power after decades of obscurity.

The only Third Political Party to succeed was the Republican Party which was founded in 1854 and elected a President in 1860. It was blessed by the fact that the Whig party split over slavery. There were many attempted anti-slavery third parties including the Liberty and Free Soil, but neither rose to became the Republican Party.

Third Parties peak and then wane. Those that accomplish something fade away gracefully. Others linger on unable to concede that it’s over. Two prime examples of this are the Socialist and Prohibition Parties.

In 1892, the Prohibition Party candidate for President finished 4th with 2.3% of the vote. For 112 years since then, the party has withered on the vine. In 2000, the once might Prohibition Party’s perennial joke of a Presidential Candidate (Earl Dodge) won 208 votes.

In 1900, Eugene Debs founded the Socialist Party. In 1912, he won 6% of the vote. In 1932, Norman Thomas won 2% of the vote. Since then, the party has shrunk away so that Dave McReynold’s showing of 7,000 votes was a triumph.

Yes, the Prohibition and Socialist Parties continue to run their old, tired campaigns. Of course, we may very well say the same thing about the Libertarians in 100 years. Like the Prohibition and Socialist Parties, the LP leadership doesn’t know that it’s time is far past.

In 1980, the Libertarian Party won 1.1% of the vote and since then have failed to approach that mark. They hope that in 2004 with yet another unknown nominee, the same old platform, and the same agenda they’re going to get a different result then they’ve gotten for 24 years.

As for the Constitution Party, their peak was smaller. The leadership of that party seems oblivious to the fact that their party, essentially started as a revolt against the GOP leadership, has not won the following of conservative activists.

While talking about governments, Thomas Jefferson’s words are equally applicable to political parties: “Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” To most GOP voters, the CP members decision to leave constitute ‘light and transient causes’.

The Constitution Party is like a band of revolutionaries shooting British soldiers in 1760 and then wondering why the populace doesn’t help them overthrow the English crown. In 1760, there had not been sufficient cause for any responsible person to advocate revolution. Neither has there been sufficient cause as of this date to break apart the GOP.

4) Third Parties Lead to Despair: The Constitution Party, and more to the point the Libertarian Party have seen new members join their party, yet they never seem to actually grow.

The reason is that many members either drop out of politics entirely or join the major parties. The idea that politicians of both parties are hopelessly corrupt and the only hope for the country is for a particular third party to claim victory is gloomy. When that third party finished with less than half a percent or less than a tenth of a percent of the vote, it becomes downright demoralizing that 97% of Americans are voting for hopelessly corrupt major parties. Thus people drop out and disappear from the political scene.

5) Current Third Parties Lack the Will to Win: Republican, Democrats, Natural Law, and Green parties have no problem taking money from the government to pay for their conventions but not the Constitution or Libertarian Parties. They’re too idealistic for that. They say the government shouldn’t be funding political conventions.

It does, however. While their member’s tax dollars fund the conventions of other parties, they are financially crippled by their refusal to accept federal funds, constantly in debt, and never achieving anything.

There is no strategy, no real plan for third parties accept to pass their platforms, participate in little watched third party debates, and lose handily.

6) Third Parties are Easily Overrun and Corrupted: Nothing was uglier than the Reform Party battle of 2000 when a large number of usurpations and conflicts occurred causing the party to hemorrhage members and disappear.

The America First Party sprang up from the old Reform Party’s Buchanan wing and found itself overrun by Bo Gritz supporters. Minor Parties are more likely to be influenced or taken over by small sections of society, turned into cults of ego, and left for dead after the exercise in self-aggrandizement fails.

Conclusion

While the Libertarian and Constitution Parties have many good ideas, they’ve failed to implement them because of the same issues that have dogged third parties for decades. Neither party can escape it’s past or break it’s continuing cycle of irrelevancy.

The logic of third parties is lost on me. They say they need to form a third party to save the nation from its doom. Yet, if a movement cannot summon the numbers, strength, or organization to take over a political party how can it summon the numbers, strength, or organization to take over a much larger political unit (i.e. a whole country).

In 1996, I read a pamphlet on the Constitution-then the US Taxpayers Party in which the author compared political parties to buses. If a Bus is not going where you want it to go, you get off it. The same, they argued, is true with a political party.

I submit based on decades of experience the Constitution and Libertarian Parties represent buses nowhere, forever stuck at the station, quietly remaining still while the political life of this country passes them by.

When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by many of these third parties and even considered voting for them. That fascination has faded as I realize that members of these parties are wasting valuable time and energy that could be used to restore America rather than tilting windmills. Like Saint Paul, when I became a man, I put aside childish things. It is far past time for third party members to do the same.

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