Commentary: The quest to move party politics Forward will require other parties

It’s a pretty scary time for our democracy.

Attacks on the integrity of our elections and on government officials performing their constitutional duties have continued unabated since the 2020 election.

The nation’s two-party system has morphed into the Democratic Party, fought by a hodgepodge of conspiracy theorists and culture warriors who have pledged allegiance to a twice-indicted politician who faces numerous investigations and is obsessed with grievances. The Republican Party as we once knew it is dying.

You know things are bad when Republicans start recycling unpopular politicians like Donald Trump and Paul LePage. If your cesspool is bubbling, forget about trying to drain the sump.

So I was with interest – and a bit of a chuckle – when I read that a third party was organizing in Maine and elsewhere. The Forward Party bills itself as the third alternative for those frustrated with the current state of politics. It is led nationally by former Democratic presidential nominee Andrew Yang of New York and former Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey.

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The Forward Party is parsimonious in politics, such as those related to voting rights, abortion, taxes, public education or the environment. Its website lists ranking voting, impartial primaries, and independent county redistribution commissions as platform issues.

“This is about the only thing the two parties can agree on is that they both don’t like competition,” Yang said of his efforts in an interview over the summer.

Whether the Forward Party has a realistic chance of gaining support at the national or local level is anyone’s guess.

Maine is a state that looks favorably on candidates who defy political norms. There has been a long history of electing women to the US Senate; its junior senator is an independent, and independent candidate Ross Perot received more votes in 1992 than President George HW Bush, a summer resident of Kennebunkport.

The country as a whole wants and deserves more alternatives. A recent Pew Research poll found that 27% of all voters are dissatisfied with the Republican and Democratic parties, and nearly half of young adults would like to see another party on the scene.

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But the key to a third party’s success is multiple parties.

In America, third parties are viewed with suspicion, thanks in part to demonization by Democrats and Republicans. They are often accused of “stealing” votes from the other parities. Not to mention they’re struggling to resonate with voters by pushing a mix of similar policies that hardly differentiate them. And most lack the massive resources needed to build a grassroots movement that is competitive at all levels.

In a parliamentary system, we would have at least five different parties, as noted by William Galston, a Brookings Institution fellow and former dean of the Maryland School of Public Policy. As he put it, we would have a “progressive Sanders/AOC party, a center-left Biden party, a centrist/business-leaning Bloomberg party, a traditional conservative Pence party, and a conservative populist Trump party.” Maybe even a viable “green” party for those focused on climate change.

Instead, we’re left with two parties that are great at raising money for themselves and are more concerned with power struggles than fighting for all voters.

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If the Forward Party is serious about competing in our ingrained bipartisan system, it should create a political agenda that responds to the needs of Americans, with the goal of building an economy that works for all, recruiting local candidates and activists to help her build the party from the ground up and work with other small parties to change local electoral laws to make it easier for their candidates to vote.

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