Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Republicans May Be The Third Party Newt's Waiting For

Yesterday, Newt Gingrich came out with a warning that the Republican Party may be facing a challenge from a third party in 2012.

“If the Republicans can’t break out of being the right wing party of big government, then I think you would see a third party movement in 2012,” Gingrich said Wednesday during a speech at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, the local television station KY3 reported.
I imagine Gingrich might be right. Perhaps there will be some alliance of the religious right, small government idealists, and neo-conservatives that no longer views the Republican Party as a suitable vehicle for their ambitions.

Maybe there's a younger, more credible version of Gingrich himself ready to take charge of a new kind of conservative coalition.

But I don't think so.

The bottom line is that the Republican Party is moving farther to the right grows as the right grows less popular. If anything, there's less chance of a new conservative party emerging now than there was in 2008 when conservatives thought John McCain was a dangerous liberal.

But that doesn't mean there won't be a third party in America's future. Actually, that third party might be the Republicans.

Despite the hesitations and hedging of the Obama administration, the Democrats have charted a much more liberal course on a multi-lateral foreign policy, universal health care, a green economy, and dramatically expanded education.

And I'm happy to see it.

But the fact that the Dems have shifted to the left and the Republicans have moved right means that there's a lot of ideological space in the mushy middle for another political party.

One of these days, people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Bloomberg, Charlie Crist, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter might realize they have more in common with each other than they have with either of the current major parties.

They might also find a charismatic presidential candidate who occupies the middle ground in a compelling manner, sparks some new party organization, and wins lots of converts among current office holders.

I don't particularly like moderate politicians or moderate voters. But "moderation" could be the next big thing in American politics. It's easy to see a moderate political party replacing the Republicans as the leading opposition party and becoming competitive with the Democrats in New England, New York, the middle Atlantic states, large sections of the Midwest, and the West Coast.

The situation of Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania is a good example of the potential of a moderate party. Specter might not be viable in either a Republican or Democratic primary, but he would be the initial favorite in any three-candidate race.

It's not beyond the realm of imagination to see a moderate party replacing the Dems as the leading opposition party in states like South Carolina or Utah either.

That kind of development could mean that a moderate party would be a threat to the status of the Republicans as the "second party" in American politics.

The opportunity for a "moderate moment" has been there in the past.

Colin Powell could have seized it in 1996 when he was polling almost 30% versus Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. John McCain was the most popular politician in America in 2000 and might have won as an independent over Gore and Bush.

Barack Obama has proven to be extremely adept at occupying both the middle and the left. So, there might not be a realistic opportunity for a moderate political party in 2012.

But that doesn't mean that the opportunity won't open up again after Obama leaves the scene. Gingrich might get his wish for a third party. It's just that the third party might end up being the Republicans.

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