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The Third Party Fantasy


Erick Son of Erick went from triumphalism to outrage in defeat in record time. The latter contains a line that seems to be getting some attention:

But John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn will ensure that Obamacare is fully funded and give the American public no delay like businesses have.

In doing so, they will sow the seeds of a real third party movement that will fully divide the Republican Party.

John Judis says we may be witnessing the end of the Republican Party. Polls say people like the idea of a third party in the abstract.

Now, for the same reason that a third party on the left is 100% downside and 0% upside, a right-wing third party would be all kinds of awesome. But I think the idea that a right-wing third party of any significance will emerge is as much wishful thinking as the 1. Green Party throws many elections to Republicans 2. ???? 3. The United States will be like Denmark! chain of hand-waving. First, I endorse NonyNony’s comments with one exception:

Not going to happen. For a few reasons:

1) There’s no funding for it. The big money guys who have been fueling the Tea Party through cash donations do not want a splinter party. If they did, they would be funding the Constitution Party or the Libertarian Party and trying to turn them into major national parties. I suspect that with enough money they could turn those parties into major players in the House within a few election cycles if that was what they wanted. But it isn’t – they want to own the Republican Party, and the Tea Party tools are just a means to that end.

2) The Tea Party leadership is riddled with grifters. They follow the money, and do what they can to move the money from other people’s pockets into their own. If a splinter party would make a good grift they’ll do it, but frankly it’s a whole lot of work to do something like that. They could make more money by setting up an Americans For Prosperity lobbying corporation and sending out fear mongering fundraising letters while NOT actually putting together a political party.

3) The Tea Party faithful are the laziest group of people you’ll ever want to deal with. They complain, and they’ll engage in angry Revolutionary War cosplay to protest something, and they’ll give money. But any kind of commitment beyond that is too much to ask.

So this means:

1) You’re not going to get a top-down directed third party movement because the money guys don’t want it.
2) You’re not going to get a middle-outward directed third party movement because the grifters in leadership positions can make more money elsewhere
3) You’re not going to get a bottom-up directed third party movement because the grassroots are lazy-ass-lazy.

Well, I’m not sure about #3, for reasons I’ll get to in a second, but I also think it’s by far the least important. To this I would add that the modern Republicans are unusually homogenous for an American political party. There’s nothing remotely like the situation like the Whigs in 1854 or the Democrats in 1860 where the party has sectional factions with increasingly incommensurate worldviews. The Tea Party has no reason to break off from a party in which they have massive influence. In addition, even Republicans shoot the hostage they could still maintain the House in the 2014 midterms while shedding a more of its tiny cadre of useless moderates. That doesn’t sound like a pending breakup to me.  Intraparty Republican differences are strategic, not ideological.

To this it might be objected that the Tea Party has some of the delusions of a Stoller/Nader worldview — cf. the nominations of Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock, et al. which have cost Republicans control of the Senate. But while stupid these primary insurgencies are a different form of stupidity. First, note that they’re working successfully within the party. (This is why I don’t think the “lazy” charge is right.) And second, the mistake O’Donnell represents is just straightforward delusion rather than willful sabotage. Delaware Tea Partiers weren’t trying to teach Republicans a lesson by throwing the election to Democrats; they sincerely although erroneously thought that O’Donnell was a good candidate. The Stoller/Nader worldview is delusional, to be sure, but it also sees punishing Democrats by electing Republicans as a positive end in itself. I see no evidence that most Tea Partiers think that electing Democrats is ever a solution to anything. They might inadvertently facilitate throwing elections to Democrats anyway, but their intentions are crucial in determining whether they’d abandon the GOP to play spoiler. I see no reason to believe that Tea Partiers have the slightest interest in doing so.  I don’t think they’re lazy, either, but since no non-trivial number will want a third party it doesn’t really matter.

And, let’s be frank, even Erickson is bluffing. He fell in line behind Romney; he’ll support Republicans in the 2014 midterms and he’ll support anyone the GOP nominates in 2016. We’ve seen this dynamic before and we’ll see it again. There’s not going to be a consequential third party run from the right.

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