Going back to Strom Thurmond's ill fated 1948 Presidential run as the States Rights Democratic Party candidate, third party runs have done little more than play the part of spoiler. Did Ross Perot cost George H.W. Bush the election in 1992? Did Ralph Nader cause Al Gore to lose in 2000? Did Jill Stein contribute to Hillary Clinton's loss in the most recent election? While it is impossible to know what would have happened in the absence of their runs, every Presidential cycle brings a number of third party candidates representing various interests.
From Strom Thurmond and George Wallace to Ralph Nader and Jill Stein, what most of these candidates have in common is that they come from outside the political mainstream. That is, they tend to carve out a position to the right or left of the Republican or Democratic parties. The lone exception was Ross Perot who positioned himself as an outsider but with centrist appeal. It's no coincidence that Perot was the only one to gain nationwide support -- and votes. What ultimately failed Perot was that on the positions, he was not that far from the main political parties.
A lot has changed since 1992, however. The Republicans have lurched further to the right while the Democrats have a real void in their party. It's hard to tell if the Progressive wing will ultimately win out in 2020. In either event, it seems likely that come 2020 both parties will be much further apart from each other and the center than at any time in our modern history. If there is one truism in American politics is that the more centrist candidate usually wins our Presidential election. Before you point to the 2016 results, we'd offer two reminders. First, while Clinton was certainly the more centrist candidate by any measure, she did win the popular vote by 3 million votes. Next, candidate Trump was more central on some issues than he has showed as President Trump.
Third parties have a hard time gaining traction - and often spring from one of the mainstream parties such as Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose party in 1912 after he failed to gain the Republican nomination. John Anderson's independent run in 1980 or Evan McMullin in 2016 are the best examples of a third party run trying to grab the center that they felt their party abandoned. However, in both instances, neither Anderson or McMullin represented a true 3rd party. Rather, they were reactive candidates attempting to offer a solution to what they felt at the time was an undesirable choice between the two mainstream candidates.
What if a 3rd party was organized proactively (rather than reactively based on unpopular candidates) as a real centrist party that attracted Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike? A party that was fiscally conservative but socially liberal that was less about ideology but more about pragmatism. A party that put Country first and cared more about sucess for the American people rather than winning elections. A party that treated all Americans with respect and could broker compromises. A party that didn't try to gerrymander but tried to lead. A party that wanted to do what was right not what would hurt another party or win them an election in the next cycle.
Such a party wouldn't need to win a majority or the Presidency to be effective. If it won enough Congressional seats to ensure no party had a majority, it would force compromise and cooperation. It could break through the toxic environment that permeates Washington. A third party that puts country and its citizens over party may be the only way to truly "drain the swamp."
Is BiPartisanship Dead?
Considering the toxic nature of today's politics, the title question above could largely be intrepreted to be rhetorical. We just finished 8 years of the Obama adminstration that saw the Republicans united in partisan opposition. The Democrats seemed determined to return the favor even though they are the minority party in both houses of Congress. We are a long way from Tip O'Neil and Ronald Reagan working together. Or even Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush working closely on education legislation including No Child Left Behind.
If ever there was a cause for bipartisan effort and compromise, it's healthcare. The current version of Trumpcare narrowly passed through the House with zero Democratic support. Trumpcare 2.0 was crafted as a compromise between more traditional Republican conservatives and the alt right wing. As it heads to the Senate, it is extremely doubtful that the bill will even be considered as is. The big question is how will the Senate leadership deal with it. So far, all indications are that Republicans will craft a bill to garner 50 Republican votes. That means they don't care about Democratic support and that it will be crafted in a way that it can be passed via "reconcilliation" meaning it is filibuster proof. Democrats for their part seem united in opposition in hopes of preserving Obamacare and not giving Republicans a victory. Under this scenario, the only hope for the American people is that there are at least 3 moderate Republican Senators with enough backbone and integrity to stand up against the draconian features of Trumpcare 2.0.
It doesn't have to be this way and it shouldn't be this way. Healthcare is way too big of an issue that affects every single American and accounts for a huge portion of our economy. It is exactly the kind of issue that deserves bipartisan effort to reach a consensus that can propel the country forward. We don't need a new version that becomes a weapon for one side in the next election. We need a version that Americans can rally around and will continue to evolve and improve -- not one that is fodder to be overturned in the next election. Healthcare should not be a political football tossed around for partisan gain. Our hope is that that most august body of American politics the Senate can somehow turn the tide and work together to craft a bill for all Americans. Sadly, we have little faith that will happen.
When our elected officials consistently vote along party lines, it makes it increasingly difficult for voters to split their ticket. Why, as an individual voter, would we vote for an individual who is only going to be a lackey for the party? The short answer is we don't. We end up voting for the party we most identify with and this leads to a vicious cycle of partisanship. When our elected officials fail to vote their conscious or vote for what they think is in the best interests of the country and its citizens, the electorate becomes jaded and more likely to vote along party lines and in their own interests.
We have lost independent, strong and courageous voices that vote for what's right -- not for what the party leadership cajoles them into doing. We have lost members of congress willing to reach across the aisle and work in a bipartisan manner for the good of the country. We have lost the art of the compromise which this country has operated under for the vast majority of its existence. The constitution itself was a highly compromised document. President Reagan famously worked with Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil who once said all politics is local. Now, all politics is obstructing the other side.
Throughout our history, we have had bitter disputes between different political factions that have even gotten as nasty as today's environment. In today's social media, it can certainly feel that the conversation has gotten nastier. But even during the first couple of administrations, nasty personal articles were often published -- mostly anonymously. What seems different today is the rigid partisanship and lack of common ground (or willingness to even want to find common ground). We're not sure what the answer is but certainly gerrymandering has played a huge part. When districts are drawn so that one party dominates, then our elected representatives fear a primary challenge more so than a general election which leads to increased party obedience. We'll be examing this in more detail in future posts. For now, take a look at some of these electoral maps from past elections as they may surprise you and offer hope for breaking the gridlock: http://www.redwinepolitics.com/syrah/red-stateblue-state
Red State/Blue State
The current Red State/Blue State conundrum we are in may seem like it's been the status quo forever, but it really is a 21st century phenomenon. Don't believe us -- take a look at the electoral college map below:
The entire west coast went to the Republican candidate Richard Nixon while the Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy almost swept Dixie. Yes, the deep south states were primarily one party states back then but this still shows that the current map predictability was a far way off. The seeds of the current state of affairs were planted just 4 short years later as this map shows:
Despite losing in a landslide, the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater created a new conservative coalition in the deep south that would continue and grow until this day. We were still a few decades away, however, from the current red state/blue state map with a few swing states deciding each election. Let's fast forward to 1996:
While the map is looking closer to what we would expect today, President Clinton in his re-election bid still won what we would now consider safe Republican states such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Let's move ahead a short four years to the dawn of a new century:
In one of the tightest and most contested races in our history, the current battleground was drawn. For the most part, this map has held with a handful of states such as Florida, Virginia, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado and Ohio serving as the battleground states and a few more such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin capable of flipping. If you dig deeper and look at the current Republican margin of victory in states like Alabama and Louisiana, it is inconceivable that they once voted for President John F. Kennedy. Likewise, it is hard to imagine California, Oregon and Washington voting for President Nixon over Kennedy. So, how did we get here and how do we get out of the rigid political ideology that favors party over country and has the electoral college in a virtual viselike grip? That's what we'll be examining here at Syrah so named for it's purplish tint as we believe that we have more in common than apart and we can combine some red and blue elements to create a more blissful state of purple.
Our column to reflect on the purplish nature of our country when we combine our red and blue states.