By David Jolly and Michael Willner
The Republican Party’s day of reckoning has arrived. The rift between mainstream conservatism and fanatic populism threatens to split the party of Lincoln after 165 years of existence.
Republicans are fighting over two visions of the future of the GOP. Most rank-and-file Republican voters are following the path of Trumpism while the leadership of the party is deeply split. Some want to follow this radical new direction, embracing conspiracy theories and harboring a total distrust of government. Others prefer a return to their mainstream center-right conservative roots even though they know they are swimming upstream against a tsunami of Republican base voters. As the party drifts toward racial, social and geographic extremism, more and more registered Republicans are abandoning their party, leaving behind an even more radicalized GOP.
Some of the mainstream center-right party leaders are now developing their Plan B. No doubt, their first choice is to take back their party from Donald Trump’s grasp, but they are acutely aware of how difficult that will be anytime soon. As a result, many are thinking that now is the time for a new center-right party to emerge and to compete in future elections.
They are making a big mistake. It won’t work.
Historically, the temptation for a new party has been to carefully pick an identifiable spot the left-right ideological spectrum and expect voters to flock to that shared ideology. Unfortunately, that simply creates a new party playing the same old politics-as-usual game. Instead of offering a radically new approach to fixing our broken political system, these new parties simply create another rigid ideological tribe.
It’s Not Personal, it’s Systemic
The truth is our elected officials already know how to solve problems. Just think about the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles solution in dealing with our national debt. The Gang of Eight brought Senate Democrats and Republicans together to improve our border security and immigration policy. Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey crafted a modest advancement of our nation’s gun policy. There are many other viable bipartisan policy solutions agreed to by serious legislators who simply wanted to solve problems.
Sadly, our political system doesn’t care. Despite the almost universal view that these solutions significantly moved the ball down the field, the entrenched political duopoly often will not even allow a vote on the floor of Congress on these measures, even when enough bipartisan support was almost a certainty. Clearly, people are capable of governing effectively but the political infrastructure created by the two major parties is not. Despite the rhetoric of trying to work across the aisle, most party leaders and ideologically-driven voters today believe compromise is a zero-sum-game — “if they win something then we lose.”
We see this approach not just in governing, but also in setting the rules of the game for elections. Just this year we’ve seen Republicans engage in anti-competitive policies to protect their dominance through voter suppression legislation in Republican-controlled states. Democrats play the game as well. In the dead of night, Democratic NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, together with the passive acquiescence of Republican and Democratic state legislators, recently eliminated four offical political parties statewide with a stroke of the pen — half of the parties in the state. That move was never even debated in the legislature and it left over half a million registered party members without their chosen party.
A Third Way
What if a new party actually welcomed people of differing views on policy, united by their commitment to shared values instead of shared ideology, committed to democracy over party? They would reward accomplishments of problem solving, good governance, transparency, healthy debate and compromise. And they would support a system of fair and open elections for all voters and all candidates. This party’s principles would be based on a totally different paradigm; a big tent that welcomes conservatives, centrists and progressives who define success not by defending an intractable party position but by passing legislation to solve problems. In short, imagine a party that judges its accomplishments simply by getting stuff done.
America is ready for something new. Very few regular folks are happy with the way their government is working. The fastest growing group of voters is rejecting the two major parties and registering as independents or minor party members.
Breaking open our political process won’t be easy and it won’t happen quickly. It’s hard work, made even harder by a patchwork of state electoral systems that make it difficult and expensive for independents and new parties to run in elections. As a result, a new party must also work to advance election reforms such as ranked-choice voting, open primaries, gerrymandering reform, and other pro-democracy initiatives even as it organizes to compete in future elections alongside the Republicans and Democrats.
This is who we are at SAM, the Serve America Movement, and that is what we are determined to do.
The SAM Party is organizing to field candidates in five to ten states in 2022, in addition to our past work in support of unity tickets in New York and Connecticut. By 2024, perhaps half the states or more could have state organizations up and running with the goal of having a new party competing in local and statewide elections, not as a spoiler but as a viable contender. Given the state of our country today, the time is now. Our commitment has never been stronger. Consider joining our efforts. Consider SAM.
David Jolly is the Executive Chairman of SAM, The Serve America Movement and Michael Willner is a Director and Chairman of its Political Committee.