February 4, 2023

A Third Way with a Two-Party System?

by Hal Gershowitz

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Third parties simply do not elect presidents in the United States. They never have, although third parties have, on occasion, had a substantial impact on the country’s history.

In July 1850, Vice President Millard Fillmore ascended to the Presidency following the death of President Zachery Taylor. He then lost the Whig Party nomination in 1852 to Winfield Scott. Scott then went on to lose to Franklin Pierce (one of America’s two worst presidents). Fillmore ran again in 1856 as the American Party (or Know Nothing Party) candidate losing to James Buchanan, who proved there could be even a worse President than Franklin Pierce.

Then there is third-party candidate Ross Perot (Reform Party), who cost George H.W. Bush his election against Bill Clinton, and Ralph Nader (Green Party), who managed to cost Al Gore his election against George W. Bush.

Currently, a significant organizing effort is underway to establish a new third party called the Forward Party. Its founders are determined, well-intentioned, and, one might fear, somewhat naïve. The founders are Democrat Andrew Yang, a businessman, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for President in 2016, and a former candidate for mayor of New York City. Joining him in this effort is Republican Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and a former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator during President George W. Bush’s administration. Also at the center of this effort is David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida.

Another new third political party with no representation in Congress, fielding candidates with no real following, minimal current name recognition, and no relevant accomplishments, is not apt to win the White House in 2024.

The fact remains that third-party candidates just do not do well running against candidates who are prominent Democrats or Republicans.

So, instead of third-party candidates, what might happen if there were a ticket consisting of a prominent presidential candidate and an equally prominent vice-presidential candidate who were and are active members of their respective Democratic or Republican political parties, just not the candidates picked at their party’s nominating convention?

Here’s the thing. A diminishing number of Republicans and Democrats are enthused about the pre-ordained choices they will be asked to support. It appears likely, if not certain, that former President Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and President Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party nominee. A Trump candidacy will be burdensome given the former President’s substantial legal problems, his remarkable propensity to say whatever comes into his mind, the absurdities and insults notwithstanding, his openly racist companions, and his penchant for trashing anyone critical of him.

On the other hand, Biden inspires few people, will be well into his eighties, and his verbal stumbles are probably sure to increase as he ages. For the record, I believe both Trump and Biden have noteworthy accomplishments. The question is whether they represent the best their respective parties have to offer. It is difficult not to ask, is this the best we can do?

Recent polling data suggests that around sixty percent of the American electorate is asking that very question. What does it say about America if the answer to that question is yes?

According to Pew Research and Gallop, most Americans are unhappy with being handed these two choices in 2024—take it or leave it.

One alternative to that partisan ultimatum is a third choice (not a third party) that is being seriously contemplated if the level of dissatisfaction with the choices the two primary political parties are anointing is the current President and the immediate past President. Biden and Trump will be well into their eighties during their first term in office should either one be elected President of the United States in 2024.

However, a popular, accomplished, and prominent Democrat or Republican running on a unity ticket determined to unify the country may be another matter. During my podcast last week with No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy, he discussed just such an initiative that the non-partisan political interest group is preparing if it were clear that most American voters were disappointed with the nominees of the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Clancy says that No Labels would only field such a unity ticket if a substantial majority of American voters were unhappy with the nominees of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Clancy emphasizes that such a unity ticket would not involve creating a new third party but rather a unity ticket that would consist of firmly committed centrist members of both parties.  

Suppose polling demonstrates strong dissatisfaction with the nominees of both political parties. In that case, No Labels may be prepared to provide a third way by qualifying a unity ticket consisting of a popular and accomplished Democrat and Republican to be placed on ballots throughout the United States in 2024.

“The availability of a unity ticket would be like an insurance policy,” Clancy said. “You’re glad you have it, but you hope you never have to use it.”

We have been conditioned to accept that we must vote for whatever candidates the two primary political parties nominate. It is possible, however, that American voters may have a third alternative; an opportunity to vote for a Democrat and a Republican committed to unifying the country instead of candidates who see politics as a blood sport in which opponents do not see one another as constructive competitors, but rather as evil opponents.

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