Commenting on the newly established Forward Party co-chaired by former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Democratic guru James Carville gave it the following concise assessment: “A really stupid idea, in a nation awash in stupid ideas.”
Carville is absolutely correct. This new Forward Party venture is purportedly intended to give a vehicle for disaffected Democrats, Republicans, and Independents the opportunity to have a greater influence on the electoral process. Instead, it will most likely have the opposite impact, enhancing the electoral prospects of the current authoritarian anti-democracy Republican Party. To understand this, it is necessary to first assess the current national political landscape.
As stated most cogently and accurately by Republican strategist Matthew Dowd, the overriding issue in these midterm elections is the survival of democracy. On January 6, 2021, 147 of 213 Republican members of the US House of Representatives voted to overturn the free and fair election that resulted in the victory of Joe Biden. This Republican House vote was an overwhelming endorsement of the effort of former President Donald Trump to steal the election. This Congressional vote defined and confirmed the status of the Republican Party as the anti-democracy party.
The Democratic Party is hardly an ideal party for traditional Eisenhower Republicans like me who believe in fiscally strict budget governance and prudent Realpolitik foreign policy. The Democratic far left Socialist wing, under the suzerainty of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is anathema to both non-Trumpian and anti-Trumpist Republicans.
Yet for all its imperfections, the modern Democratic Party has remained unequivocally a pro-democracy party. Simultaneously, the transformation of the American Republican Party under the dominance of Donald Trump into an authoritarian right-wing party resembling the Hungarian Fidesz Party of strongman ruler Viktor Orban has left us pro-democracy Republicans politically homeless.
Since democracy is our most significant value, we pro-democracy, homeless Republicans have cast our ballots for Democratic candidates in virtually every election since the emergence of Donald Trump in 2016. Our votes have had a decisive impact in the election of a Democratic US House of Representatives in 2018 and the election to the presidency of Joe Biden in 2020.
At its most politically effective, the Forward Party would play a spoiler role, ultimately benefitting the anti-democracy contemporary Republican Party. Forward candidates would siphon from pro-Democracy Democratic candidates a significant number of homeless Republican voters who had been voting Democratic during the era of Trumpian Republicanism. This would decrease the vote total of pro-democracy Democratic candidates, enabling authoritarian anti-democracy Republicans to score more victories.
For the above reasons, I question the efficacy of any new third political party as a vehicle for increasing the influence and effectiveness of homeless Republicans in this era. Rather than sponsoring a new political party, homeless Republicans should support a national state-by-state fusion column movement, which I described in my InsiderNJ column of January 20, 2022.
Such a fusion movement involves legislatively empowering dissidents in each party, like the homeless Republicans, to sponsor candidates from both parties in one column. As a rule, fusion columns do not have their own candidates but pick their column nominees from existing Democratic and Republican tickets.
Fusion columns have been an accepted and successful practice in New York State. The votes a candidate receives from two different columns may be aggregated. For example, in the 1960 presidential election, the total vote of the winning candidate in New York State, John F. Kennedy, included 406,000 votes he received as the candidate of the fusion Liberal Party, as well as his Democratic Party votes.
A state-by-state fusion movement constitutes a much more favorable avenue for pro-democracy Republican success, rather than a separate party. And there are two pro-democracy Republicans who would make superb co-chairs for such a movement: outgoing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and the now revered hero of the January 6 hearings, Congresswoman Liz Cheney.
Aside from the structural problems mentioned above, there are two other formidable obstacles to Forward Party success, namely 1) its difficulty in crafting a compelling message; and 2) the political stature of its co-chairs, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.
Usually in American history, third parties have sought to first create a targeted base with a narrow passion- arousing wedge issue. The Forward Party sought to do the opposite. It attempted to generate broad appeal with bland non-committal messaging designed at all cost to avoid offending any political or ethnic constituency.
The initial result has been to generate apathy and cynicism in the media. The messaging has been described as both incoherent and mushy, in short, an empty pabulum. The lack of any real substance has resulted in my defining the initial stage of the Forward Party as The Charge of the Lightweight Brigade. Indeed, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the Forward pudding has no theme.
Yet the political stature of the party leaders may be an even more insuperable obstacle to being taken seriously.
Christie Whitman was, for the most part, an effective governor of New Jersey, particularly on economic development. Yet her political influence and significance has waned considerably since her ill-fated service as National Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency in the first term of the George W. Bush administration, specifically with regard to her 9-11 remediation actions and policies.
Yet Whitman’s public perception issues are minuscule compared to those of Andrew Yang. She is not plagued by significant electoral or business failure.
Andrew Yang has a record of major reversals in both arenas. Why Whitman would agree to serve with him is a mystery to me. Her image may be that of the faded star, but Yang’s image is that of eccentric failure, despite some undeniable successes.
Yang has yet to ever achieve any significant political victory, and his campaign for the Democratic New York City mayoral nomination in 2021 was a political catastrophe, labeled by Newsweek as “one of the most disastrous campaigns ever.”
In 2011, Yang founded a nonprofit corporation, Venture for America, promising it would create 100,000 jobs. It created 150.
Accordingly, the prospects for success of the Forward Party are highly unlikely. It will serve as an exercise in political narcissism for Whitman and Yang, enabling them to claim continuing political relevancy. In terms of the national politics of this decade, the formation of the Forward Party will prove to be a forgotten nonevent.
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.