HAWAII, June 26, 2012 – The exodus of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party did not occur in a political vacuum. Years of frustration over the poor national and local candidates that the primary process routinely churns out has sparked a combination of dissatisfaction with the two party system and even PACs aimed at making elections competitive against career incumbents.
While outwardly Election 2012 may appear to be another cycle as usual for the two-party paradigm, the ongoing global economic instability, widening distrust for incumbents and the swelling number of disaffected Democrats and Republicans may spell the end of the American dispensation of duopoly.
Gary Johnson is perhaps one of the sharpest and most competitive candidates to run third party yet, but after this election there needs to be an action plan for a continuum of change. Here’s what third party activists should do to ensure their swift rise.
1. The two party system is most vulnerable in state and municipal contests; identify states where one of the major parties has a low electoral exchange ratio.
Sun Tzu’s Art of War famously teaches “appear where you are not expected.” Many people make the mistake of starting national movements in the form of running for Congress or the Presidency. While admirable, the fastest way that third parties can gain seats (or even legislative agenda setting power) is to maximize national resources on states where one of the two major parties is weak.
If we calculate a party’s Exchange Ratio as the number of wins divided by the number of losses in a single general election (E = w/l) states where one of the two major parties has a recurring poor E combined with a large independent population are ripe for a third party alternative. Poor E over the course of several general elections may suggest the losing major party may be the wrong ideological fit for that state or the losing major party’s state committee fields poor candidates.
If, as an example, the Libertarian Party were to focus on a few states – or even one state – we could see a third party beachhead emerge that serves as a launching point for future national campaigns. An effort to develop a map of Democrat and Republican state Exchange Ratios should be the first thing that the Libertarian Party develops immediately following November 2012. Operations should then be maximized in areas where E reveals an electoral window.
2. Don’t try to force an entire reform platform on an electorate.
Envision for a moment that you and four of your friends decide to go out for a movie night together. Two want to see a movie that has action, science fiction and horror in it. Three want to see a movie that has fantasy, action, comedy and romance in it. If you focus on attempting to appease all of the desires of your friends, chances are you’ll be going for ice cream rather than watching a movie. On the other hand, since everyone in that group wants “action” finding a movie that maximizes the action creates a win for everyone involved.
In like manner, third parties often lose because they want to use elections as a means for pressuring the electorate into a shocking legislative paradigm shift. Rather than insisting that an entire platform be embraced (“End The Fed! Repeal Everything Now! End All Wars! Legalize Everything!”) third parties should emphasize the areas of their platform that align with the 60%+ of the electorate.
In many states there are 60%+ issues which the majority of the electorate feels the Republicans and Democrats aren’t attending to, which presents an electoral opportunity. Never fear being a single issue party or single issue candidate, especially when the issue you run on is one that the majority of people want action on.
3. Develop electoral goodwill through community engagement.
The biggest mistake one can make is to assume that campaigning is just passing out leaflets and knocking on doors for nine months during election season. Third parties need to make an active effort to be visible and active in their communities in and out of election years. Over and above marketing and recruiting outreach this means volunteerism. What better way to show that free markets work than for Libertarians to actively organize to help clean up graffiti, assist a town after a major storm passes through or even offer to pick up trash in a major park?
4. Aggressively fundraise with an attitude to win. Be bold!
Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right. The key to successful fundraising is to have something that is worth investing in. The major parties are banking on third party activists to believe things like “a vote for a third party or write in is a wasted vote.” Leadership by example is an important aspect of reform. Writing a fundraising letter that says “The Republicans and Democrats are so powerful and we’ll never have a chance of winning but at least we’ll get the message out, so please donate $25” is not the best way to inspire confidence or build a war chest.
Third parties need to develop solid messages, recruit credible candidates and pitch worthy fundraising requests. Fundraising is also about recognition – if you provide an opportunity to honor people, they will honor you. I personally would like to see in the future the rise of “Murray Rothbard Day Dinners” in which Libertarians can draw celebrities and large donations.
5. If you challenge it, it will change.
Winston Churchill said history is written by the victors. But in the battle to bring forth new ideas and a new political order, history is written by the survivors. If you challenge something long enough and with a commitment to adapt and grow, things can and must change. Third parties need to work at developing professional political education for their candidates in which office-seekers are trained how to court voters, how to speak articulately, how to fundraise and given competency in politics.
The job of a leader is to deliver results in spite of circumstances. If there isn’t a way, a leader makes a way. Third parties need to develop a victorious mentality. In America, we don’t settle for the lesser of two evils. The entrepreneurial spirit says if we don’t like business as usual, we make our own business and do it better and for less cost. Where is your drive to see change established?
Aspire to make an impact, irrespective of what people say. As Cicero wrote, “In men of the highest character and noblest genius there is to be found an insatiable desire for honor, command, power and glory.”
It’s time for third parties to reject the notion that being vanquished is their eternal inheritance. Nothing is impossible and no dream is without power of fulfillment for those who believe. Why break the paradigm? Because it’s breakable!
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