About ten days ago, I had a real treat. I met and had lunch and discussion with Tom Campbell, in Orange, California where he is teaching. Tom Campbell, for those of you who don’t remember or never knew, was a five-term Congressman from Northern California. His bid for the Senate ended in defeat, and he is now a Professor at Chapman University. He teaches both law (he’s an attorney) and economics (he has a PhD in the field from University of Chicago). Tom served as a moderate Republican, a near-extinct species.
He and I see alike on the two dominant parties being pulled to the extremes by their ideologues—Democrats by the progressives, Republicans by the tea party. We both think that President Trump represents neither, and is an anomaly, and an unfortunate one at that. We both feel that our country needs a third party, a centrist one, dedicated to re-uniting the country by representing the large and unrepresented middle—conservative Democrats, Independents, and liberal Republicans. He believes that legislation is almost always a series of compromises, rather than holding out for the extreme, having insufficient results, and getting gridlock as a reward for obstinacy. We agreed on a remarkable number of policy issues.
Where we differ is more in strategy. I believe the way forward is to attract enough attention and followers on a national scale, to have a successful approach to significant donors that will build a financial war chest, and then to seek appealing candidates for “purple” state offices, the House, later the Senate, and eventually, the Presidency. Tom’s approach is to start in California, which clearly needs fixing as well as the Federal government. He would form a Centrist party in California, raise money, and recruit candidates for the State Legislature. He believes it’s important to deny any party a 2/3 super-majority, and just one or two legislative victories can do that. With those new legislators in the center holding the balance of power on fiscal matters (that require a 2/3 vote), and showing the way to useful compromise, the party might grow to support a candidate for Governor or US Senate in the future. From growing a party in California, he would approach other states where the chances of success were reasonably high (the “purple” ones), and roll out a party that way.
I have to tell you that whichever strategy is better, Tom has an infinitely better sense of the tactics to get there than I do. Counting primaries and general elections, Tom has run thirteen times in California, and won ten times– he has been there and done that. He knows the important elements of election law, and the easiest ways to qualify a new party for a position on the ballot. He has had contact with important sources of funding. And he has the personal charisma to win votes.
Midterm elections are over. Keep an eye on Tom and on this effort. I think this man has his thoughts together, and could be the leader of an important national movement, starting at the state level. I will be tracking him, and letting you know of whatever opportunity he offers to centrist-thinkers.
7 thoughts on “A DIFFERENT PATH TO A CENTRIST PARTY”
Tom’s approach has a lot of merit. While it takes more time, starting with his home state makes sense. Plays into the beauty of federalism. I never thought I would champion states rights, but in current environment we have better chance to experiment at state level and begin making progress on issues that impact all of us. Changing times with medical coverage, cannabis to mention acouple are examples. Wish we could use a different term than “third party”.
Hi, Michael. Good to hear from you! These certainly are changing times, and I think we do need a centrist party. My vote would just be American Centrist, and I’m willing to give it up for the cause. Experimentation by the states, where it does not subvert Federal law, is certainly desirable. Thanks for your comment.
I’ve thought for a long time now that there are 10-15-ish centrist Senators, coming from both parties, who should just form their own Centrist Caucus. They could determine 100% of what legislation passes in the whole country. They would retain their jobs and withstand primary challenges for that reason alone. That’s kind of Tom’s point, albeit just in California.
Thanks, Matt. There is an informal caucus in Congress now, calling itself “No Labels” that is trying to do that. The problem, in my view, is that they are somewhat beholden to their respective parties, as a source of funding for their re-election campaign, and not wanting to be disciplined by the party putting up a challenger in the primaries. A third party would have its own fund-raising and dispensing organization. I would hope once established, the centrists in both parties’ Representatives and Senators would consider defecting to the new party.
That’s kind of my point. If it starts in the Senate where people aren’t constantly running for reelection, those few people will be less beholden to their constituents by definition, and holding that much power over all national legislation will be a boon to their reelections and therefore require less party money. In theory.
I tend to favor the approach suggested by The American Centrist, as I don’t think Tom Campbell’s strategy would work well in California, and would ultimately fail. Why? Because California is just too blue, and continuing to move to the left. (Perhaps it would work better in a purple state.) Instead, if such a centrist party were able to obtain very significant funding and high-visibility support (from wealthy individuals such as Michael Bloomberg and other sources) and get extremely qualified non-partisan individuals to run for Senate seats – keeping in mind what Matt Blumberg said about their not constantly having to run for re-election – that might be a starting point.
Thanks for the comment, Paul. I also think it would be easier to raise significant money for needed publicity and exposure, if the movement were to go national, gaining access to potential large donors.