Remember last week when I noted that D.C. political operatives, specifically pollsters, see such roiling, rolling anger out there that a third party candidate seems likely? Tuesday, I got the other side, with D.C. veterans saying that the system just won’t allow a third party to emerge.
Speaking at a Bipartisan Policy Center panel on “the vanishing Republican moderate,” pundits from several different backgrounds downplayed the idea of a successful third party push. “We have a two party system, we’re stuck with it, it’s not going to change,” said Geoffrey Kabaservice, author of the fascinating sounding Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party From Eisenhower to the Tea Party. Instead of being supplanted, he said, “parties get taken over from within,” meaning that they evolve and shift to accommodate whatever is making their constituents uneasy—hence the GOP’s shift to a more uniformly conservative party.
Lee Huebner, a founding member in 1962 of the moderate GOP Ripon Society and later a speechwriter for Richard Nixon, argued that a third party movement could happen if there was “space in the center and both parties went to the extremes. But both [Bill] Clinton and [Barack] Obama chose to pre-empt the center and I think prevented that from happening and make it unlikely to happen this year.” Veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz added that he thought there was less space in the middle than when Ross Perot made a substantial showing against Clinton and George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election. “The ingredients are certainly there in a lot of ways because of the disgust with Washington generally,” he said, “but I don’t see it having enough critical mass to really rise up at this point.”
The slim chance for a successful third party movement, argued the American Enterprise Institute’s Steve Hayward, a Reagan historian, is if in three or four years Washington gridlock abets a European style financial meltdown. “It would [have to] be somebody like [New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg, somebody very prominent with a lot of resources to step forward and say, ‘Enough.’”