Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A New Republican Party

I have a quick thought. And before I start, I knock on wood that Obama will win.

We were talking last night, and the following question came up: In the future, is there any chance that the Republican Party can win an election without the Moral majority or the far right? I think it may well be a long time before we see a resurgent Republican party. But I am not sure that the Party can win without what has become its base- at least since Reagan.

So I wonder aloud, if I were a moderate Republican, wouldn't I be better off starting my own moderate party? Since the Republicans aren't in a winning position, and won't be for awhile, wouldn't I be smarter to start a 3rd party now to challenge the conservative base? This would increase the moderate voice, might even win over some Blue Dog Democrats and Log Cabin Republicans and have a change to get some roots and growth so that by say 2016, I'd have something strong enough to either challenge the traditional Republican Party or at least be absorbed by it and thus, change it.


The Law Talking Guy said...

The problem for the GOP is that they will learn the wrong lessons from 2008. If McCain loses, as it looks like he seems poised to do, the GOP right will conclude that the problem was that they didn't put up someone true to their values. With the exception of Giuliani, McCain is the least socially conservative of the candidates during this last primary season. Having tried and failed with a "moderate" (that's how they see McCain) they will "return to their roots." This means you can expect a more conservative GOP in 2010 and 2012. Whether they win will probably have more to do with how Obama fares (should he win) than the GOP's own positions.

So what about moderate Republicans? They are becoming Democrats now. Democrats seem to have captured the political center, for now.

Will they keep it? It depends on what happens under unified government. It will help if the GOP skews rightward.

If this election is really a realigning election, as it might be, we will see former moderate Republicans become a moderate wing of the Democratic party.

A third party will not work electorally.

Raised By Republicans said...

The problem with third party movements is that the electoral system works strongly against the formation of viable third parties.

It would be easier for people in the middle of the political spectrum to take control of one party or the other than to form their own party. The only way a third party could really emerge as a totally new movement would be to either base their party on a dimension that splits one or preferably both of the two established parties or wait for one party to die off and emerge from the ashes. The Republican party did a little of both in the 1850s. As the Whigs declined, Slavery divided the Democrats and the Republicans emerged from the wreckage of the Whigs as an overtly anti-slavery party (admittedly to varying degrees).

A new party might be able to take advantage of the deficit/debt worries and base their movement on balanced budgets. But they'd be up against an electoral system that does not give points for coming in second, let alone third.

The Law Talking Guy said...

A third party could have emerged in the Dixiecrat era (1948-1968) but the GOP coopted the Dixiecrats instead. For those who don't know: Strom Thurmond ran for president as a segregationist in 1948 and took the deep south.
In 1952 and 1956, the South voted for Democrat Adlai Stevenson (but nobody else did) on a non-civil-rights ticket.
In 1960, there were 15 unpledged electors from MS and Alabama.
In 1964, George Wallace(Republican) took the deep south in 1964 with a program that supported "state's rights."
In 1968, George Wallace ran as an independent segregationist and swept the deep south.
In 1972, the South voted for Nixon and the Republicans, and never went back.

The third party failed miserably in the election of 1912 when Teddy Roosevelt split the GOP and formed the Bull Moose party, but Democrat Wilson was elected. The famous cartoon of the era was Elephant divided by Bull Moose = Donkey.

Raised By Republicans said...

Right, it's just easier to transform an existing party than build up a third one.

USwest said...

All of the above are reasons why I mentioned changing the party in my last line.

But LTG is probably right. It is too much to hope that Republicans would learn the right lesson.

Bob said...

I agree with everybody.

Specifically, I think it's conceivable that moderate Republicans might look for alternatives, especially if (as seem likely) GOP hardliners "learn the wrong lessons", alienating them further.

It's true that the system is profoundly anti-third party, but if the GOP self-destructs ideologically, that would create a vacuum for a new second party to emerge (perhaps co-opting some of the infrastructure of the old party).

This is only a possibility if the next few years dismantle much of the Republican national presence (due, one hopes, to learning those wrong lessons). And if that's the case, there may also be a tendency for an ascendant Democratic party to splinter somewhat. Blue Dogs are a good example, but there's also tensions within the big tent party between protectionists and free traders, etc., that might help feed a replacement party.

Dr. Strangelove said...

What does it take to make a third party? I think you need an idea which is important to a lot of people but difficult for a major party to co-opt--and you need a regional focus. A popular political figure is not required and might even be a detriment: Ross Perot and Teddy Roosevelt failed to found lasting third parties, while Lincoln--who was not well-known in 1860--managed to succeed.

I can think of three eras in American history when there were rumblings of a third party. The first of course was the pre-Civil War period, when the critical issue was slavery and the regional focus of the Republicans was the liberal North. The second was the "Populist/Progressive" era (1892-1924) when the critical issue was reform: fighting against corporate power and government corruption. The regional focus was the libertarian West. The third was the "Dixiecrat" era (1948-1968) that LTG nicely described, where the critical issue was segregation and the regional focus was of course the racist South.

Each time, the critical idea was for various reasons, difficult for the dominant parties to adopt. As LTG and RbR describe, in the late 1850s the Democrats were rooted in the South and could not therefore be anti-slavery, whereas the Northern parties had just wrecked themselves, leaving a vaccum. In the Populist/Progressive era, the people's frustration was aimed squarley at the two major parties themselves and the corrupt corporate power structure with which they were entwined. In the Dixiecrat era, Southerners still felt historical enmity toward Republicans, and yet the Democratic Party could not afford to embrace segregation because it would cost them the North.

So I ask myself: is there an issue which fits the bill that could arise anytime soon? I can only think of one: Fundamentalism. (The anti-globalization movement has probably fizzled. There was no regional focus, and it has now been sufficiently co-opted.)

But I think religious fundamentalism has a fair shot. I suspect 2004 was the high-water mark of fundamentalism, and now the power of that bloc will wane. Fundmentalism has a clear regional focus (West/South) yet as the nation drifts leftward, I think their ideas will become sufficiently unpalatable to the rest of the country that soon (I hope) neither major party will dare champion it because they would lose everyone else, and the Fundamentalists alone will never again be able to win an election as they did in 2004.

Dr. Strangelove said...

An apology to the political scientists on this blog: I realize that what I wrote above is either (a) terribly obvious, or (b) terribly wrong. I am no expert on these matters. I'm just throwing together ideas based largely on sound grasp of High School American History. I was mostly writing to organize my thoughts rather than to make an argument of some kind.

I welcome constructive comments.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr S. The geographical focus is 100% correct. You are right that given our electoral system, having a geographical concentration can overcome the anti-third party bias in the system.

One could imagine a true Liberal party (in the European sense) emerging in the Mountain West and Midwest. This party might be pro-balanced budgets, pro-trade, and pro-small government but also pro-choice and hands off on social issues. In effect, a more reasonable and pragmatic version of the Libertarian Party.

I will only quibble with Dr S's characterization of the Democrats being rooted solely in the South prior to the Civil War. There were significant numbers of Northern Democrats and in the 1860 election, there were two Democratic candidates - one from the North (Douglas) and one from the South (Breckenridge). And there was also a fourth party, the Constitutional Union Party that ran a candidate (Bell) from Tennessee. In the North, Lincoln won and Douglas tended to come in second. In the South Breckenridge won and Bell tended to come in second.

FYI - Douglas's running mate had the AMAZING name of Herschel Vespasian Johnson. That's a little tidbit for you LTG.

USwest said...

As someone lacking in party history, this was interesting. Thanks!

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR is right about the Democrats in the pre-civil-war south. The Democratic-Republican party was the only party after the Federalist collapse was complete by about 1820. That party's candidates contested the general elections in this "era of good feelings." The Democratic-Republican party was renamed the Democrats under Jackson. The Federalist party sort of re-emerged as the Whigs around 1850, but they failed to win majorities. They ran a couplewar heroes for president and won (Tippecanoe and Zack Taylor) but that was about it. The Know-Nothings (the anti-Masonic party) tried too. They even ran former president Martin Van Buren. It too basically imploded. So, what happened in the 1850s was that we were really looking for a second party in the USA, not a third. The Republicans became that second party. [In the election of 1860, there were basically three Democrats running and Lincoln (Bell was really a Dem)]. Dr.S is correct that the Democrats were falling apart over slavery (northern vs. southern democrats). Were it not for the Republican party formed in 1856 to draw anti-slavery members, the Democrats probably would have just split in two.

(Most of the churches did. Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists. That's why they're still called "Southern" baptists, 'cause they never reunited with the northern ones. The Episcopalians never split at all, and they have recently apologized for that).

So in a way, we've had no long-term successful national third parties, although some (like the Progressives in state elections) did fairly well for a while.