Listening to the voices — and not just merely looking at the numbers — from last week’s primary elections in Texas, it seems as if the climate could be right for another third-party ruckus to shake up the Republican Party.
What’s plain to see is that the GOP is deeply divided, and it’s the Democratic Party that stands to benefit. If the same dynamics play out on the national stage in coming months, we can expect a third party — coming from the right of the Republicans — to act as a spoiler in 2016.
This would be a mistake. It’s important to win the argument — as the Tea Party does, as it rightly advocates for smaller government and more freedom. But it’s also important to win elections. The best intentions of constitutional conservatives mean little, if their policies are never enacted.
The Republican Party primary in Texas last week was particularly bitter. Hard-fought races are one thing, but many this year took on an apocalyptic tone. The primaries of 2014 were more contentious than the Republican-Democrat general election matchups of 2012.
Too many pundits make the mistake of seeing this rift as the GOP versus the Tea Party. That’s not the case at all — mostly because there’s not really any such thing as the Tea Party. There’s a Tea Party movement, but it’s very decentralized. The upside of this is that the movement is definitely genuine (despite occasional claims from the left that it’s a Koch-funded conspiracy). The downside, though, is that there’s no central clearing house for ideas, endorsements and validation.
Candidates such as U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, who ran a poor campaign against Sen. John Cornyn in the GOP primary, can claim Tea Party support without having to produce any actual Tea Party bona fides.
But could that movement coalesce in coming months to produce a serious third party contender — with the momentum of, say, Ross Perot?
Polls say that it could. Last fall, Gallup found that six in 10 Americans say a third party is needed.
“The results are consistent with Gallup’s finding of more negative opinions of both parties since the shutdown began, including a new low favorable rating for the Republican Party, and Americans’ widespread dissatisfaction with the way the nation is being governed,” Gallup reported. “The prior highs in perceived need for a third party came in August 2010, shortly before that year’s midterm elections, when Americans were dissatisfied with government and the Tea Party movement was emerging as a political force.”
Why would a third party be a mistake?
Because at best, third parties in modern history have only handed elections over to the other side of the aisle.
The most success, of course, was Ross Perot in 1992, when he won 18.2 percent of the vote — and put Bill Clinton in the White House.
Constitutional conservatives would be better off working to reform the Republican Party than working to challenge it.
A third party would be a step back for liberty. Arguments matter, but so do elections.