Now's the time for the left's third-party run

Now's the time for the left's third-party run
© Getty Images

If the left wants real leverage with Democrats, a third-party run is necessary. Despite being at its political power’s apex, its relative Democrat Party influence is unduly small with the nomination decided. Confronted by this inequity, they face little risk using maximum leverage to gain their ultimate goal: Democrat Party control. 

Shunted aside again by the Democrat establishment, the left is outraged. Recently, former Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech Trump and allies grapple with how to target Harris Chris Wallace: Kamala Harris 'not far to the left despite what Republicans are gonna try to say' MORE presidential campaign co-chair, Nina Turner, vented this frustration, “What I would love to see the progressive movement do…is to go crazy.” Specifically, Turner said she would like the left to “hold the Democratic Party hostage.” 

Supporting Sanders to the end, the left went the distance against Hillary in 2016, winning over 43 percent of the Democrat primary votes cast. In 2018, the left won the House back from Republicans after eight years. Entering the 2020 contest, it seemingly had the Democrat Party in a headlock — having the energy, momentum, a clear lead among Democrat voters and the candidates. 


Alas, for the left, it had too many candidates. By splitting the coalition's support, it allowed Biden — and the establishment — to win… again. 

The left should feel trapped in the Democrat Party. Equally, the party establishment knows — having beaten back its attempt to choose the nominee — it holds the left in thrall. Confined to a two-party system, the left has nowhere to go. 

The options of those on the left are indeed limited. They can be quiescent again, as they always have been, and vote for their perceived lesser of two evils. They can fight within the party, perhaps winning marginal minor victories. However, both alternatives leave them remembering: That’s gotten us where we are now. Even on the inside, the left is still on the outside looking in.

Of course, the left does have another route: A third-party run. From its perspective, it also may have no choice and no better opportunity to take it.

Third parties have a long history in American politics. From 1916-2016, third parties averaged a combined 4.5 percent of the popular presidential vote. That average has been increasing: from 1968-2016, it was 5.5 percent; from 1992-2016, it was 6.2 percent. Even absent a “headliner” 2016 candidate, third parties won 5.9 percent of the popular vote.


In a closely divided contest, as 2020 is expected to be, holding roughly 6 percent of the electorate means holding the balance of power. As the left has learned from hard experience in the Democrat Party: Power talks and everything else walks. The left has been walking for some time for the Democrats, so making a stand now may be particularly appealing. 

It also offers a far bigger prize than even the window dressing of a vice presidential representative or platform fluff: party control. It would be the left’s best chance of forcing the Democrat establishment to finally yield future party control. It would do so by the most basic of political lessons: Democrats’ inability to win without the left. 

The left is currently reacting to two converging pressures. 

Despite obvious strength, its political influence is marginalized with Democrats’ nominee set. It has no opportunity to exert pressure and no real spokesperson through whom to do it. Compared to 2016, it is worse off than when Sanders fought to the end. 

While its political power is capped, its policy demands have never been higher due to the coronavirus pandemic. Evidencing this height is House Democrats’ huge $3 trillion bill, which still does not comprise all it seeks.  

Less able but more inclined, the left currently has no real choice for assuaging its frustrations or meeting its aspirations. A third-party run is a real choice.

It is also one that offers the left surprisingly little real risk, high reward and maximum leverage.

Consider first, the risk. The most obvious is that Joe BidenJoe BidenRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE loses. Elected incumbents seeking reelection are 11-3 since 1916 and Real Clear Politics lists 2020 betting odds as Trump 50.1 percent and Biden 41.7 percent. More importantly, the left did not want Biden anyway — not on the ticket or in the White House. Even if Biden should win, the left is likely to be disappointed. 

For all its power and influence, the left got little after 2016 — it’s on the outside again. Also, a Biden win just confirms its second-class status — shock troops, not decision makers. 

The left’s reward is clear: party control. The left has never controlled a major American political party and it also may never be this close again. 

The left’s leverage is equally clear: Trump wins. Yes, the left hates Trump, but so do establishment Democrats, which is what makes this leverage so strong. To be real, leverage must threaten real pain, and a Trump win arguably offers the left less pain than the establishment. No one has been a better motivator for the left than Trump; a Trump victory keeps the left on the march and ascending in the Democrat Party.

Turner channeled the left’s anguish when she said she wanted to “hold the Democratic Party hostage.” For hostage strategy to work, you must be willing to shoot the hostage. If the left is really serious in its frustration with the Democrat establishment and its aspiration of seizing the Democrat Party, then now is the time for a third-party. It must prove definitively to Democrats how necessary it is, otherwise it will just confirm once more how ancillary it is. 

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.