We may very well have a new powerful political Party in the United States. The only glitch is that none of the members of this new Party know it exists. Not yet anyway. Actually, the party doesn’t know it exists yet either, but in many respects it does. What we do know is that both major political Parties have abandoned a huge swath of their members (and their supporters). Now, to be sure, we have had many elections in the United States where the nominee of a Party wasn’t the choice of everyone in the Party. But this time it is different. This time the nominees of both Parties have taken positions, subsequently codified by their Partys’ platforms that are contrary to the principles to which a significant portion of either Party subscribes. Succinctly put, the majority of Democrats and Republicans are far more centrist than their nominees and their Parties are as we approach this election. Sadly, according to a Pew research study conducted this summer, fully half of those describing themselves as likely Clinton supporters or Trump supporters consider their votes as votes against the other candidate and NOT a vote in support for their Party’s candidate. This has turned into an election in which voters will cast their ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. Most Americans eschew the extremes, yet, more and more, the extremes are setting the course of both Parties.
The Democratic Party has abandoned its traditional commitment to a safety net for the neediest among us, for a vast expansion of entitlements for, well, just about everyone. The Republican Party is embracing isolationism, a proliferationist rather than a non-proliferationist position on nuclear weapons, trickle-down economics and an extremely muscular presidency—far beyond what the Constitution, or the founders who wrote it, would tolerate. So aggravated are voters in both Parties with their government that they seem quite willing, in this election, to throw caution to the wind.
The Bipartisan Policy Center commissioned a study in 2013 to research the phenomenon of political polarization in America. It is described in Greg Orman’s very worthwhile book, “A Declaration of Independents.” The researchers devised two education reform proposals that described options on reducing class size, increasing teacher pay, and other disparities in our country. The first proposal they labeled Pan A; the second was described as Plan B. But when they asked voters about them, Plan A was described as the Democratic Party plan, and Plan B as the Republican plan to half the survey sample. The Plans were identical. Thus primed, Democrats preferred “their party’s plan 75% to 17%. Yet when the exact same details were called the Republican plan” only 12 percent of Democrats liked it. An identical dichotomy was evidenced among Republicans. Only Independents answered the question irrespective of which party label was put on it. The conclusion, “Policy positions are not driving partisanship, but rather partisanship is driving policy positions.” We’re better than that — or we should be.
So what does this mean? As Orman observes, “Republicans and Democrats have been maddeningly successful in their relentless habit of demonizing each other. As a result, political tribalism has infected millions of American voters, making them literally incapable of considering any position espoused by the other party. This threatens the possibility of intellectually honest government for the rest of us, the plurality of Americans—43 percent by last year—who want solutions to problems instead of political parties waging “permanent campaigns” designed to keep problems festering so they can raise money and stir up their respective activist bases. We’ll call those who constitute this strong plurality the nation’s New Centrists. An Esquire-NBC poll found that twenty-eight percent of these Centrists are currently registered as Republicans, thirty-six percent are Democrats, and thirty-six percent identify themselves as independents. Twenty percent call themselves liberals, 25 percent conservative, 55 percent moderate, and even 15 percent identify themselves as tea party members.
We do not remember a time when a solid majority of both Democrats and Republicans did not like the nominees of their own party. But that is where we are today. Sixty percent of Republicans and nearly sixty percent of Democrats (57%) are unhappy about who is leading their party into the 2016 presidential election.
To be sure, there is always some dissatisfaction by some within either Party with the nominee of each Party.
But this time the differences aren’t so much about which candidate has the better chance of winning, but about profound differences between what the members of each party believe and what their standard bearers believe. Most Democrats are not for vast expansions of entitlements, or greatly increasing the deficit or abandoning long-held positions on trade. Likewise, most Republicans are not economic isolationists, anti-immigration or very comfortable believing Russian Prime Minister Putin is now an ally. Eight years ago, a newly formed Obama Administration thought we could “reset” relations with Russia by merely willing it so. Seeing their standard bearer, Donald Trump, now pushing the same reset button is, to many Republicans, jaw-dropping nonsense.
Gary Johnson’s bid to be the Libertarian alternative isn’t resonating much either. The Libertarians eschew national leadership or responsibility by rationalizing that every gray, tough area of decision-making is probably best left to the states. By that logic we would still be a slave-holding country with that issue having been largely resolved by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. And how did that work out? Actually, it led to the demise of the Whig Party and the birth of the (then) far more forward-thinking Republican Party. We haven’t had a political environment as conducive to the formation of a third party since — until now.
In recent elections it was the right and left fringes of the body politic that constituted the disaffected part of the electorate. Not anymore. The left and right fringes aren’t fringes anymore. They have dominated the media. While less than 30% of the Democrat and Republican electorate urned out for the primaries that selected these two stellar candidates those determined voters were clearly dominated by the outer fringes of each party. It is not the far left and the far right that feels disaffected in this election. It is the centrist middle that finds itself sidelined, watching the political scrum that is now playing out before our very eyes.
There are new winds blowin’.
But from the sidelines thinking political activists, some Democrat and some Republican, have begun to talk about the game being played on the field, and they don’t like what they see. Neither do we. America’s political system is worse than polarized— it’s paralyzed. As best-selling author and public policy expert
Charles Wheelan writes in his best selling “Centrist Manifesto,“now is the time for a pragmatic Centrist party that will identify and embrace the best Democratic and Republican ideals, moving us forward on the most urgent issues for our nation.”
The Centrist Manifesto outlines a realistic ground game that could net at least five Centrist senators from New England, the Midwest, and elsewhere. With the power to deny a red or blue Senate majority, committed Centrists could take the first step toward giving voice and power to America’s largest, and most rational, voting bloc: the center.
Then there’s the No Labels movement, a national movement of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters dedicated to a new politics of problem solving. No Labels is building a movement for the legions of people who are tired of a political system that simply doesn’t respond to the priorities of the vast majority of the American people. No labels, now a national network of over a million citizens and local leaders across America and more than 80 supporters in the U.S. Congress, is focused on building a durable bipartisan bloc in Congress and getting our leaders to embrace and work toward a new National Strategic Agenda for America.
Hal Gershowitz’s “The Eden Legacy” now available at Amazon, Kindle and Apple Ibooks at ITunes Store.