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To my fellow conservatives and libertarians: A third party is not the answer.

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Ronald Reagan, in a 1975 interview with Reason Magazine on the state of the Republican party, said that “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

Today, despite the prescience of the Gipper, a rumble is growing in many free market, small government circles — a lurking sense that the two major parties in this country just aren’t cutting it.  A new and fired up brand of conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, and tea partiers want something new.  They feel that the Goldwater/Reagan revolutions have fizzled out.  They want a legitimate third way.  They want a banner to rally behind that sheds off the constraints of today’s GOP — a party left in philosophical tatters after eight years of “compassionate” government growth, adventurous militarism, moral hypocrisy, and skyrocketing deficits — all endorsed by Bush (and now gleefully exploded into the stratosphere by Obama).

It’s hard to argue with this sentiment.  Whether Donkey or Elephant, today’s brain trust in Washington has pushed for too much intrusion, too many bailouts, too much nannyism, statism, protectionism, corporatism…too much “ism.”  Frankly, it’s depressing to watch.  Even some so-called conservative Republicans in Congress seem to have taken on an air of compliant defeat, realizing that the statist machine is not likely to stop its forceful lurch to the left anytime soon.  Rather than sounding the alarm, they offer meek or ineffectual opposition and seem content to ride the coming wave of soft tyranny.

The “just leave us alone” crowd is fighting back.  They are sick of the excuses and the spinelessness of the leaders on the right.  Many are devising plans to abandon the GOP ship once and for all.  Just last month conservative pundit Glenn Beck, when asked by Jay Leno about his party affiliation, said bluntly (in his typical hyperbolic fashion) “I hate both of them really…they both betrayed the country.

Beck is wrong.  While the ship may have lost its moorings a bit, the Republican Party has not betrayed the country…far from it.  A better, more accurate characterization is that certain leaders of the Republican Party have betrayed their Republican principles.  This may smack of nuance, but it’s undeniable.  The people are the GOP…not the establishment, not the right-wing interest groups, not Pat Robertson, not even the elected leaders.  At its core, the Republican Party remains a guidepost for our Founders’ vision of a smaller government respecting individual liberty and the Constitution.  There is a choice between the parties.  There is a difference with the Democrats.  The GOP brand may be tarnished and its current leaders may be feckless, but its foundation remains strong because the foundation is built on ideas rather than on men.  It will take a lot more than some hypocritical or boneheaded policy decisions to tear down a party based on the the simple and lasting concept of liberty.

While I don’t doubt their sincerity or their convictions, I would encourage those in the “jump ship” camp to stop and think before abandoning the elephant.  Aside from taking a symbolic stand, what do you hope to accomplish in a third party?  How do you expect to build a solid and lasting public consensus?  True, the rules are somewhat rigged in order to protect the duopoly, but how do you expect to change that in our lifetimes?  If we’re truly serious about spreading our ideals to as many people as possible, wouldn’t it be more practical to focus on transforming the Republican Party rather than ditching it?  Why not fight to restore the modern party to its Goldwater-esque roots?

It’s not like we don’t have a game plan to follow.  Just look at the presidential elections of the early 80’s.  Reagan walloped; winning 44 states and over 90% of the electoral vote in 1980.  He followed it up in 1984 with 49 states and 98% of the electoral vote.



Thats a lot of red.  And yes, I know that Reagan was not always a paragon of libertarian virtue — but you can hardly call him a moderate or a centrist.  He ran on big, bold, conservative ideas that we can all still rally behind today: lower taxes, more freedom, smaller government, individual responsibility.  People heard his message, understood it, and voted for it in landslide fashion.  There was no need for a watered down conservatism or a “go along to get along” attitude with regards to the statist agenda.

When the GOP ignores this plan and follows the “moderate” route (I hate that word) the party nominates flawed candidates with muddled messages.  They typically run confusing campaigns that fail to gain serious grass-roots momentum, and go on to get crushed or barely squeak by.  Then, instead of learning its lessons, the party establishment talks about further “moderation” and “big tents,” while the true believers end up more and more alienated from the party itself.

We can change this.  We can take back the original republican message and bring it to the country as a whole.  It’s not like we’re hawking a tough sell.  Generations of failed statist policies have once again opened the door for an alternative national message based on reason, liberty, and proven results.  But it is nearly impossible to spread this message broadly enough through a third party.  Put simply, we need to fight for the right kind of Republicans instead of abandoning the party altogether.  We need to fight for a Republican Party that captures the youth and the energy of the next generation.  A party built on freedom and individualism.  A party that sheds its Brooks Brothers suit and tightly parted haircut image and embraces the dynamic and changing American markets, technologies, demographics, and lifestyles.  A conservative party with “the heart and soul of libertarianism.”

In the same 1975 Reason Magazine interview, Reagan held that “third parties have been notoriously unsuccessful; they usually wind up dividing the very people that should be united.”  He was right.  Washing our hands of the GOP and trying to concoct a new major party through a loose coalition of conservative or libertarian-minded interest groups is, unfortunately, a losing cause.  While today’s third parties are relevant and play important roles, only their most stubborn members believe that the two party system can be challenged on a national stage.  The system is just too entrenched, and the third parties are just too fractioned.  Given this reality, we should focus on the concept that unites these groups — an unwavering commitment to liberty — and force this message back into the Republican Party spotlight.

It worked for Reagan…it can work for us.

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9 Responses to “To my fellow conservatives and libertarians: A third party is not the answer.”

  1. “It’s not like we’re hawking a tough sell. Generations of failed statist policies have once again opened the door for an alternative national message based on reason, liberty, and proven results.”

    And those results were: “government growth, adventurous militarism, moral hypocrisy, and skyrocketing deficits.”

    The reason why it is necessary to stand against the two-party state and the duopoly system of government is because these results are not simply an aberration. They are the inevitable result of corporatist government. It borders on the absurd to argue that building a real opposition movement (third party, independent etc.) would be more difficult than depriving the corporatist elites of one of their their primary political organs (the GOP).

  2. The problem you face with a third party is this:

    It’s made up of human beings.

    Any human has their price, and K-Street is full of people whose job it is to find yours.

    Even if you elected a third party candidate, why do you think they wouldn’t immediately begin taking “donations” from lobbyists, the same as what we see in DC today?

  3. @ d.eris –

    By “proven results” I meant the results of free market, liberty based policies…not necessarily the “proven results” of the Republicans themselves. Obviously the current batch has come up pretty short.

    Nonetheless, I was understanding your point up until you said it “borders on the absurd” to argue that building a “real opposition movement” would be more difficult than transforming the GOP.

    Really? The “absurd?” That comment is interesting given that a third party has never gained significant power in a national election in this country for over 200 years (and likely never will). The other side of the argument – transforming the GOP – has actually happened, on numerous occasions, from Lincoln to TR to Eisenhower to Goldwater, and on and on. In fact, it happens nearly every time there is a fierce national primary, and its a good and healthy thing. If the GOP was never able to remake itself or emerge from philosophical battles, Barry G. would have NEVER beaten Rockefeller in the 1964 primary.

    I’m also interested in your point that the GOP is a “political organ” of the “corporate elite.” I happen to be a member of the GOP…hell, I’m a GOP candidate for political office. I certainly don’t feel corporate. Maybe I just didn’t get the memo that I was automatically a card carrying “corporate elitist.”

    Look, I understand the skepticism of the Republican Party, and it is very well deserved. Many GOP’ers have made a mockery of the ideals they were elected to promote. But to say the entire party and its tens of millions of members are somehow completely in the back pocket of some unnamed secret corporate cabal, well, it seems a little black helicopter-ish – don’t you think?

  4. @ Tyler

    Not really. The RNC is the “secret cabal”.

    A small group of people (The DNC and RNC) choose another very small group of people from whom we may elect our representatives. They obviously operate from a position of coordinated power. If they didn’t, we’d have more, and varied, choices come election time.

    E.G. Ron Paul was the most popular Republican candidate in 08. He raised more money than the other Republicans, captured the youth vote, had enthusiastic crowds, and was the only person in the race for either side who wasn’t exactly like GWB, and yet McCain was *picked*, with the RNC openly discussing their choice.

  5. @ Tyler: To elaborate on my point about “bordering on the absurd” (it had been a long day yesterday!) . . . if the GOP’s core message is liberty, but the party has had to be infiltrated and re-infiltrated over and over again “on numerous occasions,” then it seems that the primary tendency in this party is not toward the expansion of liberty but rather the opposite. I don’t think this is coincidental, imho, it is a result of the structural order of the two-party state. Neither the Democratic nor Republican Parties seeks to reverse the expansion of the power of the state, rather both are for it, thus the result is always “too much intrusion, too many bailouts, too much nannyism, statism, protectionism, corporatism.” I would argue this is due to the corporatist tendencies of the Democratic-Republican political class, and the corrosive, corrupting influence of corporate lobbyists, who write many if not most of the bills that eventually become law. This is not a “secret cabal” either. It happens right out in the open.

    I would argue that “taking back the GOP” from the establishmentarian leadership that control it, as you say (btw, are they in black helicopters too, or just limos?) is at least as difficult as mounting a real opposition effort against the two-party political order, and does not hold the promise of actually addressing the problem represented by two-party statism since it seeks accommodation with one of the primary factions of the two-party state.

  6. @ d. eris

    “I would argue this is due to the corporatist tendencies of the Democratic-Republican political class, and the corrosive, corrupting influence of corporate lobbyists…”

    I would argue that it’s the lust for power inside everyone who wants it so badly that they’ve fought their way into Congress.

  7. It’s not the GOP. It’s the GOWPP — Grand Old White Peoples Party. Emphasis on the Old. And the White.

  8. In the South, that is not entirely accurate.

    Many, many, many white senior citizens in the South are still Democratic voters. They’re older than the demographics switch among the Parties. My grandfather has been a yellow dog Democrat since FDR, he’s in his 80s.

    And, in my experience, the older Democrats are often the most racist (let me be clear: there are many who are not), but hey, that’s just me talkin’. Forget all about what the old time Democrats did to Dr. King and his fellow Republicans as they marched in Selma and keep telling yourself that all the world’s bad people are the ones who don’t vote just like you…

  9. Yeah, it’s all them pre-demographics-switch good ol’ boy Southron Democrats a-votin’ all them Southron Republican senators, congressmen, and governors into office year after year after year. Hell’s bells, Blue Dog, Yellow Dog, or Hound Dog, it don’t matter, they all whelps of Republicans.

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