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Posted by on Oct 5, 2010 in Politics | 0 comments

The De Facto Third Party

Tom Friedman wrote another column Sunday talking about the rise of a centrist third party. Not surprisingly, a number of pundits have piled on Friedman.

In some case, I can understand why pundits grow tired of other pundits saying that a major third party is just around the corner again and again and again. History has taught us that third parties are hard to grow in American soil, the center is not as unified as it might appear and so on and so on.

But I think it is silly to dismiss these desires for something beyond the two major options that we have. The hopes for something beyond the two major parties is not simply the crazed writings of a New York Times columnist. I’ve been around enough to know people who are disatisfied with both parties and longing for something better. Maybe if these columnists and pundits got out of their worlds and listened to some folks they would know this.

That said, we might be seeing the silent rise of a third party happening before our eyes. It is not a formal party and it doesn’t have a name. But as the Huffington Post’s Charles D. Ellison notes, moderates with in the GOP are increasingly leaving the party and striking out on their own, creating a de facto third party. Ellison starts by talking about Mike Castle’s decision not to launch a write in bid for Senate and starts chatting about Lisa Murkowski’s decision to go forward with a write-in campaign for Senate. He notices a pattern:

…the underlying point, in comparing Murkowski and Castle, is that we may be seeing a movement of moderate Republicans becoming Independents, forced out of necessity to create an unofficial “third party” movement.

We’re already seeing real signs of that in current Gov. Charlie Crist’s (I) non-write-in bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat as a former GOP insider who one day grew tired of uncertain back-and-forth with stalwart conservative peers. Clearly, irate and impatient red state activists on the right liked what they saw in Marco Rubio. Crist would have watched in futility as his chances for Senate retirement would have disintegrated in the cauldron of primary day tempestuousness.

There is something attractive about that, particularly considering recent Gallup surveys that show 58% of Americans are open to the proposition of a third party. Still, this is not the third party expected; folks probably think of brand new political activists hitting the scene to pitch larger themes of reform and the extinction of the “career politician.” In these instances, you have career politicians desperate to save their gigs. But, it’s still refreshing that high profile candidates are leaning in that direction in attempts that could encourage the larger body politic to think outside of the electoral box and seriously consider third party bids.

If you notice, a number of former Republicans are now mounting independent bids or are endorosing independent candidates. Former liberal GOP Senator Linc Chafee is running for governor of Rhode Island and an independent. In Minnesota, long-time GOP operative Tom Horner is running under the Independence Party banner with the backing of serveral Republican donors. Former GOP officials in Maine and Nevada endorse independents for various offices.

None of this is coordinated, but it might be signaling that moderates within the GOP are tired of being picked on and are trying to strike out on their own. Will any of this morph into an organized third party? Who knows. I agree with Ellison that it makes more sense to start a third party with sitting officials than trying to start from scratch.

But I think this is one of the under-reported stories of 2010.

Crossposted at Big Tent Revue

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