A well intentioned friend sent a link around about some Libertarian-type third party, talking about how the GOP could not be trusted, etc. I launched my usual response, which may be of interest to our readers:
It is always a bad idea to support a third party you like. The dynamics of the American election system force the creation of two centrist political parties, which are really coalitions of interest groups, since it is winner takes all at 51%. Any time you have a third party, it simply breaks up one of the coalitions and hands the victory to the opposing large party. This is hardwired into the system. It cannot work any other way. We have had the same two large-party labels in place for 149 years for a reason. It is better for any kind of conservative to work within the GOP, as frustrating as that often is, trying to find ways to articulate our views to other people who don’t already agree with us in a way that will gain their assent. In other words, we are stuck having to use persuasion as a way to reach and convince others and to accumulate larger groups of voters who agree with us. There is no gimmick we can use to somehow beat the system. Otherwise, we get a scenario like Perot causing two Clinton victories. I prefer to see Nader causing a GOP victory, or John Anderson taking votes away from Jimmy Carter (1980 was not that long ago …). My dream would be a strong Green party sucking the life out of the Democrats. People with strong views have often gone off after the mirage of a more ideologically pure third party. It cannot work under our electoral system and always makes things worse for the people who put their hopes in a third party. Wishful thinking of this type is imprudent and unwise and counter-productive.
The historical record, and our constitutional arrangements for elections (51% winner-take-all) allow no other conclusion.
That’s how I see it, anyway.
I got a fairly typical response, asserting that the Donks and Elephants are the same, etc. My riposte:
I disagree that the GOP “perpetuate the same social programs and controlling agenda the Democrats do” or that the “election system is so corrupt”. Both parties reflect where the public is at the moment. The parties are followers, not leaders, of the public mood. The GOP is slightly better on these issues, but not much better, because they’d lose elections if they were much better. I “trust” the GOP to act like a political party and try to win elections. I don’t think it is reasonable to want to “trust” it to do anything else.
Voting for a libertarian 3d party would send a message all right. It would turn over the power of the state to the liberal democrats whom I disagree with on almost everything. An election is a bad place to “send a message”.
“I don’t see how working within it for change could do any good”. What I see are conservatives who are in denial that their views are shared only by a small minority. Moreover, they are unwilling to find a way to articulate their views in an appealing way to make converts to their views and get more votes. Others are working to advance their views. If you don’t do so, and in a practical and effective way, they’ll win and you’ll lose. Count on it.
With an election around the corner, we can count on hearing a certain amount of whining about how the two parties present no real choice, etc. The answer – no kidding. The longer answer – find a way to make your ideas appealing, find a way to convince large numbers of people of their utility – there is no shortcut.