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AEI Analysis Sees Danger for GOP in Possibility of Independent Insurgency

From Henry Olson at the American Enterprise Institute:

I see the current state of affairs as an intensification, perhaps even a culmination, of four interrelated 25-year political trends: a growing distrust of conservative and liberal ideologies, a growing movement away from the two parties and toward political independence, increases in the racial-minority (which usually means Democratic-voting) share of the population, and a growing inability of the Republican party to bridge the gap between its populist and elite wings.

Together, these trends raise the specter of a serious independent, populist presidential candidacy for the first time in a century. And if the GOP doesn’t adapt to the shifting political terrain, there is even a remote possibility that the identity of America’s two dominant parties will change for the first time since the 1850s, which saw the death of the Whigs and birth of the Republicans. . . .

This trend toward pragmatic centrism can perhaps be most clearly seen in the rise of something that is now almost commonplace, the independent campaign for governor or president. Between 1928 and 1968, third-party presidential candidates represented ideological splinters from either the left (Henry Wallace in 1948, Socialist Norman Thomas in 1928 and 1932) or the Jim Crow South (Strom Thurmond in 1948, George Wallace in 1968). . . .

Since 1988, however, this has changed, with third-party candidates running against rigid ideology instead of espousing it. Independent centrists have won governorships in Connecticut, Maine, and Minnesota; others have run strong but losing races. Ross Perot did well for a third-party candidate when he ran for president in 1992 and 1996, and speculation about independent candidates such as Colin Powell and Michael Bloomberg is now a staple of the presidential season . . .

If both of today’s parties continue their missteps, however, it is not at all inconceivable that a serious third-party presidential candidate could arise. In this scenario, by early 2012 independents would make up a record-high 40 percent or more of the electorate.


  1. Gary Gary February 23, 2010

    The GOP should be worried. They are liars.

    Endless hot air at election time about wanting “small government”, but once in power they vote for and protect every liberal spending program.

  2. Gene Berkman Gene Berkman February 23, 2010

    Two of the trends he mentions are encouraging: “…a growing distrust of conservative and liberal ideologies, a growing movement away from the two parties and toward political independence…”

    If only the Libertarian Party had a strategy to take advantage.

    Since 1856 every President has been elected as a Democrat or a Republican. There is no historical basis to think an Independent or Third Party candidate can overcome the dominant parties.

    But independent and third party candidates have been elected as Governors in recent years, and to Congress in the more distant past. If we can focus on electing people to Congress, the objective factors mentioned in the article should give us a boost.

  3. “Since 1856 every President has been elected as a Democrat or a Republican ……….”

    I worked on both John B. Anderson [1980] and Perot [1992, 1996] efforts. Teddy Roosevelt is the only other high profile historical figure with ‘bling’ enough to be an independent symbolic icon.

    Also the three bladed electricity generating wind mill as 21st Century Peace Sign ……….

  4. HumbleTravis HumbleTravis February 23, 2010

    I agree with Gene Berkman. In some areas, the ground is more fertile for third party or independent representation. This is partly due to voting patterns and ballot access, but mostly because some places get more fed up than others. The presidential race is a great megaphone to draw attention to alternative candidates. However, if third parties and independents can’t parlay the widespread dissatisfaction with both parties into a single U.S. congress or state legislature seat, then I have to wonder if it’ll ever happen.

  5. Moving ‘customer’ disatisfaction from irritant to action requires marketing.

    After the horrible TANFL days, the Libs now have decent symbols [Liberty Bell, Thomas Jefferson, Statue of Liberty].

    I’m from Kansas, and the Green ‘Sun Flower’ screams ‘effeminate gardeners’ [not necessarily a good thing for the general public]!

    Most of the rest rely heavily on the ubiquitous Eagle and Eagle Head. {Standing out by blending in ………]

  6. Green Party fan Green Party fan February 23, 2010


    God bless you for the out loud laughter you brought me…..

    Well, we’ve been out gathering petition signatures since January…talked to thousands of people.

    Seen the ususual number of potentional Independent or Green Party candidates consider a run, but not take the necessary action to get on the ballot.

    So far, despite the usual bizarro world of distortion, war and fear mongering by mainstream press…

    On the street I just don’t see any of this so called anger….

    Bless you, if you’re angry. Get off the couch and on the ballot as a Green Party candidate and join the real debate…on the ballot.

  7. Green Party fan Green Party fan February 23, 2010

    Since when could we believe anything out of the Bush mouth piece AEI?

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