The Danger of Third Parties
There is a strong undercurrent in the Republican Party that has been “brewing” with the Tea Party faithful since its inception; the idea of forming an actual Tea Party to counter the Democrats and Republicans.
There have been over the course of our great Republic many such efforts. All of these efforts had one thing in common. They all failed. Most of them were formed around one man or one idea and when that man or idea lost its luster, the “third party” ceased to exist.
A prime example of this was Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party. It was formed by a cast-off Teddy Roosevelt who ran as a Progressive Party candidate on the 1912 ballot. President Roosevelt received 88 electoral votes, 23% of the popular vote in that election and arguably cost Taft, the Republican standard-bearer, the election. It is possible that Wilson might have won anyway, but going strictly by the numbers, it looks like the two “Republicans” cancelled each other out and Wilson was elected by default.
After this election, the party stuck around for a few more years, but in 1916, when it, again, wanted to nominate Roosevelt, he refused. The party then tried to nominate, then, simply endorsed Republican candidate Charles Evan Hughes, who barely lost to Wilson. After this election, the party dissolved itself back into the Republican Party.
History is littered with such examples. The only effort that can be called successful is the creation of the Republican Party, but instead of forming a true third party, it simply displaced the Whig Party and took its place as one of the two major political parties in the United States.
Fast forward to 2011, and the movement to form a third party is once again afoot. Tea partiers are justifiably disillusioned with the Republican Party and its choice of Caesar milk toast candidates. They rejoiced in their ability to nominate strong conservative candidates in the 2010 midterm election and expected that they’d be able to have the same success in the selection of the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee.
While it’s still very early in the process, many Tea Party followers are simply dumbfounded by the candidates that have entered the race on the GOP side. They are hard pressed to find a winning candidate amongst the choices and are more and more convinced that they need a third party and a “dream” candidate
This would undoubtedly be a foolish and fatal idea. Although it is still possible to draft a “dream” candidate, it must be done within the confines of the Republican Party. Splitting off to form a Tea Party would do nothing but hand the 2012 election to President Obama. Tea Party faithful need to ask themselves if four more years of this President is worth it.
The numbers don’t lie. In 2010, 42% of those polled by Gallop identified themselves as Conservative or very Conservative. 20%, by contrast, identified themselves as Liberal or very Liberal. This leaves a whopping 35% in the mushy middle. Where, exactly, would a third party naturally fit in this scenario? It’d obviously have to be somewhere to the left of the Republicans and to the right of the Democrats. That is not where the Tea Party is.
It is safe to say that a Tea Party would form to the right of the Republican Party. This makes the movement untenable in that it’ll immediately divide the 42% of the self-identified Conservative or Very Conservative votes and give us an election result something like this:
Un-named Republican Nominee: 26% of the vote
Un-named Tea Party Nominee: 30% of the vote
President Obama: 41% of the vote
As you can see, even though the race is relatively close, it’s just impossible to put together a plurality in an arrangement like this. Granted, these numbers are based only on statistical averages. A charismatic candidate could skew those numbers by a few points, but probably not the 11 or 15 points needed respectively.
Fold the Republican and Tea Party together behind a strong candidate they both can support, accounting for Obama also picking up some votes, and the numbers would look more like this:
Un-named Republican Nominee with Tea Party Support: 52%
President Obama: 45%
That almost mirrors the 1980 election. This is what needs to happen in 2012.
The challenge, then, to all the Tea Party folks reading this article is this: Work within the system. Don’t Panic. It’s still early.