Three groups — the Serve America Movement, the Renew America Movement and the Forward Party — have announced they are merging and plan to become a third party that will “soon seek state-by-state ballot access to run candidates in 2024 and beyond.”
The announcement came from the leaders of the three groups, respectively: former Florida GOP congressman David Jolly, former New Jersey Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and onetime Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang. Tim Reid of Reuters, who first broke the news, described the party as “centrist,” adding that it “has no specific policies yet.”
According to Reuters, the two pillars of the new party’s platform are to “reinvigorate a fair, flourishing economy” and to “give Americans more choices in elections, more confidence in a government that works, and more say in our future.”
The devil is always in the details in politics, and what we have here from the nation’s new major political party is a bunch of gobbledygook. I’m sure lots of voters will be excited by an agenda that includes “no specific policies yet” and from a party that promises to give us “more say in our future.”
In their Washington Post op-ed, Jolly, Whitman and Yang argue that the country needs a party that “reflects the moderate, common-sense majority. Today’s outdated parties have failed by catering to the fringes.”
A “moderate, common-sense majority” sure sounds good to me, but getting from here to there is the problem. Single-member districts, such as we have in Congress, reward winners. You don’t get any points for finishing second or third, as you would with a system like proportional representation. So a new third party would need to be very competitive from the start.
Jolly, Whitman and Yang argue, “For the first time in modern history, roughly half of Americans consider themselves ‘independents,’ and two-thirds say a new party is needed (and would vote for it).”
But what people call themselves is often very different from how they behave. Many voters who self-identify as independent or “leaning” to one party are really “closet partisans” who vote like strong partisans.
Nor is it surprising that Americans say a new party is needed and they would vote for one. A huge majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and the two parties’ leaders, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, have awful poll ratings.
But there is a huge difference between a hypothetical major new party and the formation of a real one. What is this new party going to stand for, and who will lead it? Who will build the party’s political infrastructure? And who will run for office under its banner given the failure of independent presidential hopefuls like Ross Perot and John Anderson?
During the 1950s, we had two broad-based political parties that weren’t strongly ideological and tended to coalesce around moderate positions. But those parties morphed into the ideological parties that we now have.
Moderate candidates lost in primaries, making the GOP increasingly conservative and the Democrats increasingly liberal. There are still a handful of moderate/pragmatic members of Congress, but their numbers are shrinking.
Why do today’s parties “cater” to the fringes? Because voters nominate candidates who adopt those positions, and the increasingly partisan and ideological media (from Fox News and MSNBC to talk radio and the internet) talk about politics in increasingly ideological terms.
To succeed, according to Jolly, Whitman and Yang, “a new party must break down the barriers that stand between voters and more political choices. Accordingly, we will passionately advocate electoral changes such as ranked-choice voting and open primaries; for the end of gerrymandering; and for the nationwide protection of voting rights and a push to make voting remarkably easy for anyone and incredibly secure for everyone.”
How is this new third party going to accomplish that? The Democrats already support many of those changes, and it hasn’t helped them much.
In fact, while the intentions of the new “Forward Party” are entirely honorable, they would, at least in the short run, undermine Democratic electoral prospects by dividing anti-Trump voters. That would likely help Republicans in general and likely presidential hopeful Trump in particular.
None of this is meant to dismiss the idea that the United States needs a serious, well-funded third party that stands for moderation and against the increasingly progressive Democrats and the authoritarianism and lunacy of Trump’s GOP.
But a third party with a chance of establishing itself and growing would need bigger names than Jolly, Whitman and Yang at its launch, as well as some deep-pocketed allies prepared to fund the effort.
The new party would also need to draw sharp, detailed contrasts with the two established parties, and that would mean talking about policies and issues, in addition to advocating civility and compromise.
The new Forward Party has a long way to go before it deserves to be taken seriously.