Five steps to a competitive third party

The partisan gridlock in Washington provides the prime opportunity for a third party to emerge harnessing the anti-incumbent disdain Americans have of both parties.  Polls show a majority of Americans believe a third party is needed.  Instead of shooting for the moon with an independent Presidential bid, a long term third party strategy should focus on winning Congressional seats first.  The intense anti-incumbent climate flipped control of Congress multiple times in the past decade and Congress’ approval ratings now flirt with single digits.  A third party can offer moderate, balanced solutions serving as a viable alternative to the failed political duopoly.  

Imagine what a third party would do to change Washington, not to mention state and local governments.  A viable third party established on moderate and balanced views on the issues could capture the large and rapidly expanding group of independent voters across America.  Finally breaking the two party system with a few members of the third party in Congress would be one for the history books.  The mere presence of a competitive third party will drive reforms in the two major parties to avoid being branded as partisan extremists and risk losing additional moderate and independent voters.

The first major achievement will come when the two major parties fail to win 50% of the seats in Congress and the majority is determined by the third party.  Imagine if the next House of Representatives comprised of 215 Republicans, 215 Democrats, and five members of the third party.  Those five members could determine whether the Speaker of the House is a Republican or Democrat.  For every major piece of legislation, no one party could drive bills through on party lines.  They would need to develop bi-partisan or tri-partisan solutions to our nation’s issues.  

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Here are five steps to establish a competitive third party:

1. Assemble party elders.  They should ideally have name recognition and government experience without strong ties to any party.  Any current or former elected officials must be moderates, with strong bi-partisan support, known as reformers, and not beholden to any particular cause or special interest group.  This group should comprise a broad range of experience from elected officials, political appointees, government employees, think tanks, media, and business.  Their experience, connections, and resources will shape the party’s strategy and build a coalition.  

2. Learn from leading grass roots efforts.  There are key lessons and best practices to leverage from President Obama’s 2008 campaign, the Tea Party impact on the 2010 elections, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011.  A third party should focus its energy at the grass roots level empowering supporters to self-organize, get involved, and harness the power of social media.  A small group of organized individuals could capture national attention with little start-up capital and amass members, donations, and endless publicity.  

3. Develop a moderate platform on the issues.  When separated from the partisan rhetoric in the media, a majority of Americans support moderate positions on the issues or compromise solutions between the two partisan extremes.  Republicans and Democrats today have polar opposite positions on taxes and spending.  A third party solution for deficit reduction could balance closing tax loopholes, reducing tax rates, and spending cuts.  For all the major issues, there is broad middle ground.

4. Adopt a strict policy to oppose lobbyist influence.  Lobbyists and special interest groups have enormous control over Washington and state governments often at the detriment of the American people.  Donations and political favors from lobbyists and special interest groups should be strictly opposed to allow members to restore trust, and integrity to finally achieve reforms.  They can offset that lost income source by raising campaign support and donations from individuals who are driven to finally take back Washington.  

5. Develop a powerful brand.  The third party name could rival the Democratic and Republican parties, with historical origins such as the Independence Party.  As that name is already taken, assuming control and divorcing the previous party’s agenda is one option.  The brand must convey the key tenets of party’s moderate positions, political reforms, and investment in the country’s future.  Clean logos and polished messages are equally important to convince Americans to embrace the new party.  

The current partisan gridlock provides the perfect opportunity for a new party to emerge.  Targeting a handful of competitive Congressional districts is where it all begins. The question is who will step up and lead the formation of a viable third party?