What most people think of, when a third party is mentioned, is the Presidency. We have been conditioned to thinking that way, because we have seen third party Presidential candidates emerge, late in the election cycle, who are well known and charismatic. They go down in flames in the general election. They are not heard from again. Think Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, even George Wallace.
But I’m going to ask you to imagine a 6% Solution. “What on Earth is that”?, you are probably wondering. Think about 6% of Congress, 26 Representatives out 435, and 6 Senators out of 100. That is likely to deny either of today’s dominating parties a majority in both houses, and almost definitely in one house.
Now, here is a scenario. The Senate has 48 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 6 American Centrists. The Republican House, in an effort to save Social Security and begin a reduction of entitlements, has passed a bill that raises the age for full benefits to 70, makes non-citizens ineligible, and cuts the COLA ( cost of living adjustment) to 1/2 of the inflation rate. The Democrats go crazy in their denunciation of the bill, and not one will vote with the Republicans. The bill will die unless the Republicans can get American Centrists to vote with them. What power to force reasonable compromises into an amended bill that goes back to the House! The only way the Republicans can pass anything on Social Security is to listen to the 6% !
Here’s an alternative scenario. The House with 209 Democrats, 200 Republicans, and 26 American Centrists, proposes a bill to provide free college tuition to all Americans. The Republicans, citing potential fiscal disaster, are 100% united against passage. What choice do the Democrats have to get any bill passed? Only to accept compromises acceptable to the 26 American Centrists!
Aren’t there other ways to accomplish the same results? Can’t moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans get together in a coalition, like the current “No Labels” group? Of course they can, but there is a long term, structural problem.
The problem arises from three factors: the natural desire to get re-elected, the power of the national party organizations to raise and dispense money, and gerrymandered districts.
When a moderate Democrat, who votes sometimes with moderate Republicans, is up for re-election, he or she wants to receive funding from his national party. The Party, which is leaning progressive, can withhold funds. The mere threat of that at times of Congressional votes can easily sway a senator or congressman to vote the party line. Of course the same is true for Republican Members.
And gerrymandered districts exacerbate the problem. In a district that always votes Republican, the true election is the primary, more than the general election. The Party, which is leaning ultra-conservative, can choose to fund a Tea Party acolyte against the moderate incumbent, giving the leadership of the party the ability to frighten incumbents to vote the party line, rather than with moderates who sometimes vote with the other party. And of course the same is true of Democrats.
Only a third party, with its own, independent fund-raising capability can counter the power of the two major parties, overly influenced by their extreme and ideological wings. The Presidency can wait for another election cycle.