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Today in Third Party Fetishism


My contempt for people who spend energy on so-called ballot reforms such as ranked choice voting knows few bounds. I guess it’s necessary since people have to have their special feelings stroked when they cast a ballot but that doesn’t lessen my contempt. All that work to get ranked choice voting in Maine–energy that might have been used for something actually useful–and Maine voters still end up choosing Susan Collins again. Wow, amazing work.

But my contempt for that pales compared to what I think about third party fetishism. Moreover, that it always comes from self-styled moderate Democrats is even more enraging. While fascism sweeps the Republican Party, these moderate Democrats are more concerned with making sure that we don’t talk about transgender people too often. They also think that their low-tax maybe-not-kill-the-gays moderation will sweep them into greater power. And this leads me to Tom Malinkowski, among the most annoying of the current moderate Democratic brand (though probably a step less annoying that Gottheimer and Spanberger) who has an open forum in the Times (because the big media loves this stuff) to push for ridiculous third party “reforms” in his state.

On June 7, I won the Democratic Party primary in New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional District, on my way to what I hope will be my third term in the House. The same day, I also accepted the nomination of the new Moderate Party, formed substantially by state Republicans fed up with the extremism of a party led by Donald Trump.

The Moderate Party is an experiment: an alliance between Democrats of all stripes, independents and moderate Republicans hoping to win an election while pursuing a reform to the election laws that could empower swing voters to save our democracy from toxic polarization.

Third-party candidates have long been viewed as spoilers in American politics, for good reason. Ralph Nader and Jill Stein had no chance of winning the presidency, yet drew enough votes from Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 to help tip those elections to Republicans. On the right, libertarian candidates tend to draw votes away from Republicans.


I represent the median Congressional district in America — half the districts are more Democratic, and half more Republican. The voters I meet every day in my district have views that defy tribal party stereotypes, no matter which party they have registered with.

They support the police whether it’s protecting our homes from criminals or our Capitol from insurrectionists. They think we should enforce our immigration laws, but that our economy needs — and our nation should welcome — legal immigrants. They’re pro-business, but think corporations should pay taxes, and that the success of American business depends on leading the world to clean energy. They support the Second Amendment, but with reasonable restrictions like background checks and red flag laws.In the small towns and suburbs I represent, there is also a yearning for community. They want politicians to focus on fighting inflation, not fueling culture wars.

Thanks to gerrymandering, it’s been estimated that only around 40 of America’s 435 House districts are truly competitive. Most elections are thus decided in primaries that push Democrats left and Republicans right, encouraging each side to fight and block the other rather than find common ground. Even in middle- of-the-road districts like mine, primaries can give an advantage to more extremist candidates. For example, the Republican nominee in my race, Tom Kean Jr., was once seen as a moderate. But this year, facing a contested primary, he sent a mailer to voters bragging that “no matter what Trump does, Kean has his back.”

A centrist fusion party could restore to Americans in the middle some of the leverage they have lost. We’re hoping New Jersey will be a test case for national reform. My state banned fusion parties in 1921, under the influence of major party machines. The new Moderate Party is filing a legal challenge to this law, arguing that Americans have a right to form parties that nominate the candidates of their choice.

Imagine if my Republican House colleagues Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger could form a party of moderate voters and offer the validation that comes with its line on the ballot to the next Democratic presidential nominee — so long as that nominee promised to respect the Constitution and to govern from the center. If I were to win my congressional race by, say, two points, and five or 10 of those points came from supporters of the Moderate Party, I would work hard to keep their support. After all, if I didn’t, they could endorse someone else — possibly a Republican — in the next election.

Oh brother.

There’s nothing per se wrong with fusion voting I guess if it makes those voters get their feelings nice and stroked. But who is this going to help in the end? It’s going to help Republicans. The idea that Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger represent some sort of real consistency of Republicans is the real tell. They are disliked by their party’s voters! Cheney is probably going to get destroyed in the Wyoming primary next month.

I have to wonder, does Malinkowski see such a tool as a method that he and his beloved Blue Dog colleagues can control the Democratic Party? I think it’s almost certainly the case. He finds your AOCs and your Rashida Tlaibs a lot more threatening than your Kevin McCarthys and Gym Jordans.

And at best, this is just more meaningful voter ego stroking hogwash that will take a lot of energy to get passed to accomplish precisely nothing.

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