Ron Fournier, a well-respected editor and political writer at The National Journal, reports that Republican insiders are deeply worried about a potential split in their party, likely led by a third-party presidential bid come 2016.
“Between bites of an $18.95 SteakBurger at the Palm, one of Washington’s premier expense-account restaurants, Republican consultant Scott Reed summed up the state of politics and his beloved GOP. “The party,” he told me, “is irrelevant.”
He cited the familiar litany of problems: demographic change, poor candidates, ideological rigidity, deplorable approval ratings, and a rift between social and economic conservatives.
“It’s leading to some type of crash and reassessment and change,” said Reed, who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign and remains an influential lobbyist and operative. “It can’t continue on this path.”
As the piece suggests, technological change has lowered or in some cases removed many of the obstacles to the rise of multiple parties. With the Internet and social media, as well as independent fund-raising committees, you no longer need the structure of a traditional political party to raise money, spread your message or even organize your followers.
A third-party candidate — say, Rand Paul, who delivered the Tea Party rebuttal Tuesday night — could draw from disaffected Democrats as well. The Republicans are in disarray, but polls show that voters are not exactly thrilled with the opposition either.
Personally, I think the rise of a third-party presidential candidate in 2016 is entirely plausible. The conditions for such a run haven’t been more promising in a long time. However, the Fournier piece goes on to suggest that “social change and a disillusioned electorate threaten the entire two-party system,” and I’m much more dubious about that proposition.
I am fully aware of the paradigm-busting power of modern technology. Nobody who has survived in the newspaper business in the last 20 years would question that. However, I still believe that the institutional biases in the system — some of them embedded in the Constitution, others in federal and state laws, such as Georgia’s difficult ballot-access laws — dictate the existence of a two-party system.
History tells us that third parties come and they usually go; on rare occasions, they stick around and eventually replace one of its predecessors. The time may indeed be ripe for one of those periodic upheavals.
However, once the smoke clears and the system stabilizes, it will revert to its traditional bipolar, two-party nature.
– Jay Bookman