In a July commentary I gave three of the nine reasons why America has a strong and durable two-party system, and why it is difficult for third parties to gain traction. Sometimes they behave like supernova, blowing up an election, then going away almost without a trace. But usually, to continue the astronomy analogy, they are just background radiation.
So just forget about all that and imagine an alternative universe in America in which third parties can thrive, especially so-called splinter parties that have broken away from one of the main ones, like the Bull Moose did in 1912 and the Dixiecrats did in 1948. And think about the possibilities after the 2020 election.
If Biden and the Democrats lose to Trump and the Republicans, then that will be two consecutive objectively-winnable but blown elections. (Some might argue that describes four of the last six elections, starting with 2000). Progressive Democrats led by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would form a new party – call it the Social Democratic Party – leaving establishment Democrats led by Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Clintons, who, like the poor, will always be with us.
If Trump and the Republicans lose, then three new parties would emerge:
· The old Republican establishment, led by Jeb and George Bush, Senators Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse and the Never-Trumpers in the media and the intelligentsia. They would claim the Republican brand.
· The Ever-Trumpers, led of course by Donald himself, and in the wings Senator Tom Cotton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and, of course, the Trump family. They might call themselves the New America Party.
· Evangelicals, led by Vice President Mike Pence. Evangelicals’ relationship with Trump has always been utterly transactional, so absent Trump they would follow someone more like them. Other leaders could include Attorney General William Barr. They might call themselves the Christian Restoration Party.
Obviously none of these parties would have close to a majority in Congress, so we’d see shifting coalitions like those that occur all the time in European parliamentary governments. The same goes for presidential elections. The 270 Electoral Votes to win might not be possible. So the House of Representatives would elect the president, with each state having one vote.
It’s a fantasy, folks. Can’t happen. Probably – can’t happen.
Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator for KBIA's Talking Politics.