October 28, 2016

Our Venerated Two-Party System: The Road Kill Of The 2016 Election?

by Hal Gershowitz

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Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors  Who would have believed it?

Hillary, as we’ve observed, has been pulled by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren irretrievably to the left forcing her to oppose some major initiatives—even measures she had previously supported. And Donald Trump is, well, continuing to be Donald Trump.  Neither Party will be quite the same after this election because neither Party has nominated a candidate of whom their own rank and file largely approves. In fact, both Parties largely disapprove of their own candidates.

Now, in a bizarre turn of events,  we learn the FBI is reopening it’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server and non-government and non-secured texting and email devices.

Earlier today (Friday, October 29) FBI Director James Comey informed lawmakers the bureau is reviewing new emails related to Hillary Clinton’s personal server, which has disrupted her campaign 11 days before the election.  The Bureau is focusing on newly discovered emails to see if they are relevant to the investigation into Clinton’s server that we all thought was closed earlier this year.  FBI Director Comey issued  a letter to eight congressional committee chairmen explaining  that the newly discovered emails “appear to be pertinent” to the email probe.

Apparently, while investigating the contretemps of Anthony Weiner (husband of Hillary Clinton’s most trusted aide, Huma Abedin), the FBI learned of the existence of the emails.  “I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”

Nonetheless,  staunch Democrat voters will almost certainly stay with Clinton simply because they can’t embrace Donald Trump. She is pulling more Democrat votes than Trump is pulling Republican votes (although some of that support is probably getting flushed away with the steady torrent from Wikileaks).  What makes the impact of all of this so unpredictable is the fact that so many voters are voting for the candidate they dislike the least.  Those voters may be far more ambivalent about whom they dislike the least and, thus, late breaking news might be more impactful then would ordinarily be the case. “Yesterday I disliked Hillary the least, today I dislike Trump the least,” many may be apt to think.

The Grand Old Party will most assuredly never be the same. There are simply far too many “never Trump” Republicans, and, perhaps, an equal number of “forever Trump Republicans.”  The very fractured Republican party may, in fact, become the wellspring of a new political party just as the Whig Party was the wellspring of the Republican Party in 1854.

The American body politic has never been more poised for the emergence of a viable third party. And that’s really saying something because in our system of elections it is extremely difficult for a third party to gain any real traction.

Here’s why. Now, stay with us here. It’s called Duverger’s Law. Maurice Duverger, a French sociologist, observed in the mid 50’s that when an electoral system is based on plurality-rule, as is the case in the United States, wherein only one person can be a winner even when that person’s opponent received as many votes — less one. In other words, we have a winner-take-all system that controls congressional elections, senatorial elections and “elections” within the Electoral College. So, a third Party candidate must win more votes than the two established primary Parties to win anything at all. A very strong showing by a third-Party candidate in the United States, but not strong enough to outpace either of the two major Parties in an election, wins absolutely nothing.

The exception, of course, is when one of the two major Parties implodes because a major slice of its core ceases to identify with the Party leadership, and cleaves off and forms a new Party. That really only occurs when there is an issue that severely polarizes a political Party. But it does happen. In 1854, such an issue — slavery, fractured the Whig Party. Dissident Whigs met in Ripon Wisconsin and from that meeting evolved a new political Party. Six years later that new Party’s candidate, a former rail-splitter-turned-politician named Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican President of the United States.

Today, the Party of Lincoln is split over another burning issue — it’s very identity. Many in the Republican Party including many of the Party’s most respected leaders no longer identify with their Party’s standard-bearer, Donald Trump, nor with the positions to which he has committed himself, and, thus, the Party. It is no secret that George H.W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Cara Hills, and many others all probably plan to vote for Hillary Clinton.

The Democrats have a similar problem. Millions of young Democrats and blue-collar Democrats really can’t stand Hillary. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may be the two most unpopular candidates ever to run for President. That fact, in and by itself, wouldn’t mean much. Elections end, candidates and their supporters brush themselves off and stand to fight another day. But this time, it may be different. Tens of millions of American voters are not just seeking a change in their Party—they’re seeking a new Party altogether. Current research strongly suggests that Americans are more eager to see a new third Party than at any time in over a century.

The Gallop organization says that 57%, of voters say that a third major U.S. political party is needed, while only 37% disagree This poll was conducted last month, and found that Americans’ views of the Republican and Democratic Parties’ are near historical lows. The two third (and forth) party candidates are polling four to five times higher than third Party candidates traditionally poll.

The Politico-Morning Consult poll reports that most voters are dismayed at their major-party choices. More than half of voters think the Republican and Democratic parties could have nominated better candidates than Clinton and Trump. Only one out of four Republicans think Trump was the best choice for Republicans, compared with one-third of Democrats who think Clinton was the best Democrat for the job.

Pew Research has determined that an unusually high share of under-30 voters are saying they’ll vote third party. What makes the under-30 vote’s flirtation with third-party candidates especially interesting is that this group, today, is the most diverse ever. These are traditional safe Democrat voters who, in large numbers, have a poor opinion of both candidates.

An ever-growing number of American voters now consider themselves to be independent voters. Party loyalty seems to be on the wan. As John Kennedy famously said when he first ran for Congress, “Sometimes Party loyalty demands too much.” No one wins an election in America without winning the independent vote. So just what is the mood of America’s independent voter today? Well, rather anti Democrat and anti Republican. Now, independents have always, by and large, been receptive to third Party candidates, but never so much as today. Today a whopping 78% of independents consider a third Party to now be necessary.

There are, of course,  millions of strong Trump and strong Hillary supporters.  Many of them  are not apt to move back to the political center where moderates dwell.  Moderates, therefore, may begin to coalesce and form the nucleus of a new political Party committed to  moderation and a willingness to work together to solve problems rather than to stymie progress.

Not surprisingly, there is growing interest in a new centrist party made up of moderate Democrats and Republicans.  A new political movement that calls itself “No Labels” held its first convention a year ago and attracted eight presidential candidates and over 1500 delegates. Two recent books, “The Centrist Manifesto” ( Charles Wheelan) and “A Declaration Of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream (Greg Orman) are gaining traction as this election season spins and stumbles toward election day.

Hold on to your hat. These political winds will be blowing long after election day.

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