Tags: Donald Trump | George W. Bush | Polls | Presidential History | truman | democratic | roosevelt

Time for a New Political Party

Time for a New Political Party
(Jason Kolenda/Dreamstime) 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017 05:35 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Former presidents Bush father and son recently expressed fears that Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party. Although I was a lifelong Republican until nine years ago, I rather hope they are right.

Both parties used to be coalitions of strange bedfellows. The Republican Party was held together by memories of 1912, when the Republicans' split between incumbent William Howard Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt, elected Woodrow Wilson — a Democrat. Likewise, the different Democratic factions held together because if they didn't Republican victories would be guaranteed.

Our current party system is dysfunctional. When both parties contained substantial numbers of liberals and conservatives, their platforms tended to be moderate. Both parties competed for the voters in the middle of the bell shaped distribution curve of public opinion. In many constituencies either party could win, so public opinion had a moderating influence on politicians, pulling them into the middle.

Today we find liberals clustered almost exclusively in the Democratic Party and conservatives in the Republican Party. Thanks to gerrymandering, few seats in the U.S. House of Representatives can swing between parties. Rather than becoming more moderate to avoid defeat by a Democrat in the general election, incumbent Republicans must move to the right to avoid losing to a primary challenger claiming that he or she is insufficiently conservative.

Likewise, Democratic incumbents must move leftward to avoid being unseated by a primary challenger claiming he or she is not liberal enough. The result is a House of Representatives dominated by extremists in both parties, increasingly indifferent to general public opinion, and unable to make the bipartisan compromises needed to govern responsibly.

The Senate, thankfully, remains less dysfunctional since it cannot be gerrymandered. Its members may face threats from extremist primary challengers, but when a moderate senator loses a primary the more moderate candidate is most likely to win the general election.

A two-party system (complemented by tiny "third" parties) probably provides optimal public control over government policies, but the two main parties need not always be those we have now. In nineteenth century England, for example, the two major parties were the Liberals and the Conservatives, but the new Labour Party replaced the Liberals as the main alternative to the Conservatives early in the 20th century.

As the two major parties in the U.S. move respectively to the right and the left, the widening gap in the middle presents an opportunity. A new party occupying this space could have an excellent shot at replacing one of the two main parties. It could appeal to the large number of voters with moderate political attitudes. Many potential supporters of the new party are so disgusted with today's major parties that they are registered as Independents.

According to recent polls more voters identify as Independents than with either major party, but some of these may be reluctantly registered as Republicans or Democrats so they can have some voice in primaries. I myself am a reluctant Democrat.

The two major parties probably won't disappear simultaneously, so only one of them will be demoted to minor party status. The prime candidate for this "honor" is the Republican Party, which already has the fewest registered voters. It is in such a shambles, and its leaders are behaving in such an irresponsible and unprincipled way, that it may never win another presidential election, or deserve to. As conservative columnist David Brooks recently noted, "The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: 'I'm homeless. I'm politically homeless.'"

The New Party (whatever its name) could be founded by a group of former Republicans, Democrats and independents who develop a moderate platform on domestic and foreign policy, and who make a solemn pledge to refrain from lying and try to be as honest as possible in their campaign oratory..

Politicians are always tempted to tell voters "I will give you what you want," no matter how impossible it will be to carry out such a promise. A statesman, on the other hand, must tell voters they cannot have everything they want, explaining that achieving some of their wants will be incompatible with achieving some of their other wants.

President Truman's cynical definition of a statesman as a dead politician appears, unfortunately, to be all too true. So the New Party may not be able to convince people that they are better off electing statesmen, but one can always hope.

Donald Trump is clearly a politician and not a statesman, but this need not mean that he has nothing to contribute to our common welfare. If Bush I and Bush II are correct in their fears, destroying the Republican party may be Trump's principal political legacy.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published 1981 and his most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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President Harry Truman's cynical definition of a statesman as a dead politician appears, unfortunately, to be all too true. So the New Party may not be able to convince people that they are better off electing statesmen, but one can always hope.
truman, democratic, roosevelt, wilson
Tuesday, 12 December 2017 05:35 PM
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