Author’s note: This post was written on March 23, 2008 and originally posted as is on the VCAP blog. Please see “What Happened to VCAP?” regarding its reposting.
Recently, it has been reported that in Senator Hagel’s newest book, he calls for the creation of a new political party. Now I’m sure that as conservatives, we have all expressed similar thoughts, whether openly or not. As conservatives, in modern times, we mostly trend toward the Republican Party to advocate our views. Depending on what your most important issues might be: abortion, illegal immigration, gun rights, lower taxes, reduced government spending, the death penalty, education, welfare, or another issue, some candidates just aren’t want we had in mind. Some social conservatives are not fiscal conservatives and some fiscal conservatives are not social conservatives and, as a result, we sometimes fight each other. Neoconservatives will have a tough time supporting a Paleoconservative candidate and Paleos will not rally behind a Neo. The big tent mentality of the GOP can sometimes frustrate, but that is a result of our two party system.
So how about a new party devoted to always supporting the conservative way then? Well, if one hopes to create a new third party, I would highly recommend against it. Why, might you ask? The reasoning is quite simple. Our system works to prevent the creation, success, and sustainability of third parties. Our elections consist of single member districts typically with a plurality of the votes needed to take office. Therefore, he or she with the greatest vote totals in the first round of voting wins. With all due respect to our Libertarian and Constitutional party friends, when was the last time a new party enjoyed considerable and long lasting success in national elections? Answer: the 1860’s with the formation of the Republican Party. What was the difference between the GOP and other new parties? The Republicans formed after the splintering and dissolution of the Whig party that existed prior. They didn’t look to become a third party, but rather a new major party.
Now say that the Conservatives rise up and challenge the Republican Party with the creation of their own party. What will happen? Well, in the short term at least it should ensure success of the Democratic Party. As the traditional Republican vote will be split between the Conservative and Republican parties, the Democrats can make inroads into swing and Republican leaning areas. No longer needing 50% +1 of the vote, they can now achieve success in regions where they only capture 40% of the vote assuming an even split between Conservative and Republican. (The Democrat gets 40%, the Conservative gets 30%, the Republican gets 30%, and the Democrat wins.) Think it can’t happen? Here are a few historical examples of third parties or independents altering the course of the election. Consider the presidential election of 2000. I am convinced that if Ralph Nader had not run, Al Gore would have won the state of Florida and, as a result, the election. If just 538 of Nader’s 97,488 votes swung toward Gore, he would have won. Or how about the 1994 Senate race in Virginia, where Chuck Robb beat Oliver North 46% to 43% with former Republican turned Independent Marshall Coleman claiming 11%? Or the divisive Presidential election of 1912 where the defection of former President Theodore Roosevelt and his short lived Bull Moose Party took such a great percentage of the vote to allow the election of Woodrow Wilson?
I believe that unless we adopt a new political system (like proportional representation) we will always have two major parties and that any new party will ultimately result in one of several outcomes. It will either: replace one of the two major parties (rare), run in a few races lose and then die out (common), or run in a few races, shift one of the two major parties to adopt some or all of it’s platform and then disappear (also common), continually run but never make much success at least nationally (also common). While the second or fourth results would only serve to weaken the conservative movement, only the other two would be of any benefit. So, unless a conservative party could either achieve the first or third set of results, with all due respect to Senator Hagel, I would highly recommend against the creation of a new party. Sure, as a conservative, I would always like to see the most conservative candidate in office, but the reality of the political process forces coalitions of the two party variety.
Now, if, as Rush Limbaugh had stated during the primaries, the nomination of Senator McCain does indeed destroy the Republican party, then some party will, by necessity, need to come into existence to fill the vacuum and then might an even more conservative party take shape.