To Hell With Duverger’s Law

We are told that starting new political parties in America is a waste of time. History demands we try.

Donald Trump is now a former president. He is gone from Washington. He is now in Florida, leaving behind an awesome amount of wreckage. He wrecked a long-standing political party. He leaves a nation in tatters. We will find out in the coming years, how our country has been affected by the actions of President Trump. But how will the party he ran under fare? Will the GOP be reformed? Or will it splinter?

Recently Trump mulled the idea of starting a third party called the Patriot party. Rumor has it he was talked out of this idea. His confidants reminded him it is far better to reign in the hellscape that is now the Republican party where he can go after disloyal politicians. He rules the GOP now. Why give that up?

I never thought that the Patriot party was a real option. We all know that Trump is incredibly lazy. And so I found it hard to believe that he would take the time to start a new party. Also, it’s a lot easier for him to just primary people he doesn’t like in the GOP than trying to start a new party from scratch.

However, the idea of a new party is not a bad one. It’s time to create a new center-right party, one that is actually based on sound beliefs and policies and governing. So instead of hoping that the Orange Cheeto God will leave and form a new party, maybe it makes more sense for the Romneys and Collinses to leave and to start their own party.

But what about Duvengers law? Every time that someone talks about a viable third party in the United States, someone will bring up Duvengers Law. The law is named after a French sociologist Maurice Duvenger who posited the theory that a simple majority or a first past the post system, system such as the United States generally favors only two parties. It’s only democracies that have proportional representation, places like Israel, or Germany, or the Netherlands, that can be multi-party systems.

According to Duvengers Law, trying to create a third party in the United States would be an exercise in futility because the system rejects having more than two parties. It a fascinating argument with just one problem: of all the countries that have a first past the post system, it looks like only the United States is the one nation that follows Duvengers law.

Other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom that also have first past the post systems seem to have successful third parties. The UK has two major parties: the Conservatives and Labour. But there is also a third party that consistently wins seats in parliament, the Liberal Democrats. In Canada, the two big parties are the Conservatives and the Liberals. But right behind these two parties are three other parties that consistently win seats in parliament: the socialist New Democrats, the separatist Bloq Quebecois, and the Green Party.

So, why is the US different? Writing in 2012, Patrick Dunleavy gives a number of reasons such as the lack of a socialist party, plutocratic politics, and the presence of big money in politics.

Remember that this article was written in 2012. What if something has changed in our political culture between 2012 and now that has made a third party possible? I believe something has changed, and that what has changed is Donald Trump. Actually, there are many factors, but Trump’s remade the Republican Party into his own image, a party of corruption, white resentment, and conspiracy theories. As the Dispatch’s Sara Isgur notes, it is very hard to see how you can have someone like Mitt Romney, and someone like Marjorie Taylor Green in the same party.

At this point, there was a time in my own life where I thought that the republican party could be reformed. That is a fool’s errand mostly because the base is very much solidly with Donald Trump, even though he is no longer president. Another option is creating a political party within a political party, aka factionalism. I wrote an article about it last month and it could be a way to counter the Trumpist faction. Indeed, anti-Trump representative Adam Kinzinger created a PAC to support traditional GOP values and counter Trumpism.

I have the utmost respect for Kinzinger and I hope his PAC is successful. However, I think any kind of change from within will be a major challenge. Because Trump has been a part of the party for many years and being a former President affords him a bit of power within the GOP. The longer he stays, the longer has molded the party in his image. We now have a major party that in some ways, has become anti-democratic, no longer interested in governing or policies like a normal political party. As conservative writer Michael Gerson notes, Trumpism is American fascism. Gerson explains why he came to a conclusion he had long resisted:

How can anyone view the trashing of our founding tradition as evidence of patriotism? Because some have adopted a very different political philosophy than the Founders held. This approach to government promises the recovery of a mythical past. It feeds a sense of White victimhood. It emphasizes emotion over reason. It denigrates experts and expertise. It slanders outsiders and blames them for social and economic ills. It warns of global plots by Jews and shadowy elites. It accepts the lies of a leader as a deeper form of political truth. It revels in anger and dehumanization. It praises law and order while reserving the right to disobey the law and overturn the political order through violence.

It would be really hard to be a faction in a party where a large part of has become anti-democratic. You would still have to talk to this Trumpist faction when it comes to certain issues and bills. The Trumpists aren’t simply a group with some slight disagreements. Instead, they fundamentally disagree with everyone else on the basics of American governance. This isn’t a group a “moderate” faction could do business with nor should it.

Chris Vance, the former head of the Washington state GOP believes there is already a third party within the GOP in all but name:

To be specific, Sens. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins should join with the 10 House members who voted for impeachment, including Washington state Reps. Jaime Herrera-Beutler and Dan Newhouse, and the Republican officials who stood firm during the election, such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, to form a new party, or a distinct dissident faction within the GOP. This movement would ripple through the Republican party and create a new reality, maybe even serving to encourage the Washington state GOP to return to its moderate traditions.

That is what should happen. It is what has happened at similar moments repeatedly during our history. Until relatively recently, our political parties were constantly splitting up, realigning, and reforming. The Federalist party broke up and vanished after the War of 1812. The Democratic Party split over the leadership of Andrew Jackson, eventually creating the Whig party. The Whigs broke up in the 1850s over the issue of slavery, and the Republican party emerged. Republicans split in 1896, and again in 1912 as the Bull Moose Progressives followed Theodore Roosevelt out of the GOP. Southern Democrats split with their party over civil rights in 1948, 1960 and 1968, before ultimately migrating to the Republicans.

Granted, the number of lawmakers and voters only make up at the most maybe 10 to 20% of the current GOP, a remnant. But a remnant can make a difference. The pieces for a third party are already in place; with candidates, and organizations geared towards candidate recruitment. Duvenger’s Law only applies because we have been told this is the only choice. But Canada and the UK show that any “law” can be broken.

The center-right needs to test the theory. Because if we don’t do that, we then end up in a situation where we have one political party interested in favor of democracy and governing and another party with all of the strengths, all of the perks of a major political party but without those prior commitments. Since there are just two parties, it means there is a 50 percent chance that a very Trumpy conspiracy-laden GOP could be back leading Congress and the White House. Maybe creating a new center-right party that can block the GOP from having a majority and hopefully provide a viable alternative that can minimize the threat and in the long run, eliminate the threat.

Yes, third parties can be an exercise in futility. But anti-Trump conservatives must try. Democracy is at risk. The only way to save democracy is by creating a third party system that can compete with both major parties, but especially with the GOP. This might be the right time to create a viable third party I pray that we don’t miss this chance.

A middle-aged pastor living in Minneapolis. I write about politics, religion, sexuality, and autism.

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