Trying to Move ‘Forward’

WEEHAWKEN – There’s something almost romantic about a third political party. Here is something new and shiny in contrast with the stodgy types who call themselves Democrats and Republicans.

The latest incarnation of this phenomenon is happening right now.

It’s called the Forward Party and a New Jersey booster is no less a figure than a former governor, Christie Whitman. Another prominent supporter is Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate. You can see the bipartisanship. If nothing else, the name is far superior to the Know Nothing Party, which cropped up in the 1850’s as an alternative to the two major parties of the day.

“While other political parties look to divide America into different camps, the Forward Party aims to bring them together.”

That’s one of the high-minded statements gracing the website of this new group.

Of course, a third party may not bring people together. It may further divide them – into three camps, rather than two.

There’s a lot to look at here, including history. No third party has even been a strong force in American politics.

It was considered a “good showing” when Ross Perot got almost 20 percent of the presidential vote as a third party candidate in 1992. Then again, he won no electoral votes.

That’s history, let’s examine the present.

American politics is terribly polarized. But from where does this polarization come?

Anyone paying attention the last six years or so knows that it comes from Donald Trump. There are those who love him and those who hate him.

In some cases, it’s more complicated than that, but not by much.

Trump’s critics see him as a grave threat to American democracy.

His supporters – the MAGA crowd – see him as the savior of America.

The founders of the Forward Party reside in the anti-Trump wing of this equation. As, I suspect, will many of those who want to sign-up.

So, the party is bound to draw support from disenchanted Republicans who dislike Trump, centrist Democrats who think the party has gone too far left and people not really aligned with either party.

Are any Trump supporters going to join a new party? Don’t be silly. They already have a hero.

Common sense suggests that a third party getting any traction at all would simply split the anti-Trump vote. It is impossible for that not to happen.

I made this observation the other morning to Brian Varela, who is a New Jersey leader of the new party. Varela, in case you have forgotten, tried to run against Robert Menendez Jr. in the June Democratic primary in CD-8, but was removed from the ballot because he didn’t have enough valid petition signatures.

No, he said, the idea is not to help Trump, or for that matter anyone.

“The Forward Party is not here to be a quote, unquote spoiler,” he said during a chat at a coffee shop near the Hudson River waterfront.

He said he sees the party as not moving the country left, or right, but fixing the system.

Whitman said something similar in a recent published interview. Asked if the party would be a spoiler, she said that the system is already spoiled.

That’s pithy, but doesn’t really mean much of anything.

Varela said he sees the party’s future as one that concentrates on more democratic (that’s with a small ‘d’) concepts such as ranked choice voting in which people “rank” the candidates they want in order and votes are counted accordingly and non-partisan primaries.

Neither idea is totally outlandish; both concepts already exist in some states.

But Varela is probably correct in surmising that in a state where local political machines control a lot of what happens, new ideas don’t get far.

As he puts it in regard to ranked choice voting statewide, “The chances of it getting introduced are low.”

Varela and other supporters held an organization meeting earlier this month.

“More than 60 percent of voters across the country want a third party,” Varela says in a release.

The problem is that despite that sentiment, there is little evidence those who actually vote will back a third party. Which is a pretty good reason why one does not exist.

Varela – like presumably other backers – is undaunted. He speaks of building a foundation that will begin with local government – town council and school boards. In other words, you have to plant a seed.

So if you take the long view, Trump’s fortunes are irrelevant; he will be gone from the scene eventually. Yet, it still may be hard for some to support an effort that if successful could boost Trump’s fortunes in the present.

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