Commentary: The quest to move party politics Forward will require other parties

It’s a pretty scary time for our democracy.

Attacks on the integrity of our elections and on government officials carrying out their constitutional duties have continued unabated since the 2020 election.

The nation’s two-party system has turned into the Democratic Party opposed by a hodgepodge of conspiracy theorists and culture warriors who’ve pledged their allegiance to a twice-impeached politician facing numerous investigations, obsessed with grievances. The Republican Party as we once knew it is dying.

You know things are bad when Republicans begin recycling unpopular politicians like Donald Trump and Paul LePage. When your cesspool is bubbling up, forget trying to drain the swamp.

So it was with interest – and a bit of a smirk – when I read that a third party is organizing in Maine and elsewhere. The Forward Party bills itself as a third alternative for those frustrated with the current state of politics. It’s led nationally by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang of New York and former Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey.

The Forward Party is spare on policies, such as where it stands on voting rights, abortion, taxes, public education or the environment. Its website lists ranked-choice voting, nonpartisan primary elections and independent congressional redistricting commissions as platform issues.

“This is about the only thing the two parties can agree on is that they both dislike competition,” Yang said in an interview over the summer about his efforts.

Whether or not the Forward Party has a realistic chance of winning support at either the national or local level is up in the air.

Maine is a state that looks favorably upon candidates who buck political norms. It has a long history of electing women to the U.S. Senate; its junior senator is an independent, and independent candidate Ross Perot received more votes than President George H.W. Bush, a Kennebunkport summer resident, in 1992.

The country as a whole desires and deserves more alternatives. A recent Pew Research poll found that 27% of all voters are unhappy with the Republican and Democratic parties, and nearly half of young adults would like to see another party on the scene.

But the key to the success of any third party is multiple parties.

In America, third parties are viewed suspiciously, thanks in part to being demonized by Democrats and Republicans. They’ve often been accused of “stealing” votes away from the other parities. Not to mention, they struggle to resonate with voters in pushing a mixture of similar policies that due little to distinguish them. And most lack the hefty resources necessary to build a grassroots movement to compete at all levels.

In a parliamentary system, we would have at least five distinct parties, as William Galston, a Brookings Institution fellow and former dean at Maryland’s School of Public Policy, has noted. As he put it, we’d have a “progressive Sanders/AOC party, a center-left Biden party, a centrist/business-oriented Bloomberg party, a traditional-conservative Pence party, and a conservative populist Trump Party.” Perhaps even a viable “Green” party for those focused on climate change.

Instead, we’re left with two parties great at raising money for themselves and more concerned with infighting, rather than fighting for all voters.

If the Forward Party is serious about competing in our entrenched two-party system, it should create a policy agenda that addresses the needs of Americans with a goal of growing an economy that works for everyone, recruit local candidates and activists to help it build a party from the ground up, and work with other small parties to change local election laws to make it easier for their candidates to get on ballots.

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